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Infant Mortality

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will designate those areas where perinatal mortality rates are high as special areas so urgent action can be taken immediately.

I refer my hon. Friend to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) on 3rd November—[Vol. 957, c. 11–12.] When I have seen these reports, I shall be considering what further action is required.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will fund a follow-up study of all low birthweight babies in selected areas in order to provide information on the incidence and prevention of cerebral palsy; and if he will make a statement.

Perinatal and infant mortality and morbidity—and in particular preventive aspects—is one of the main research interests of my Department's children's research liaison group and the group is always ready to consider applications for funding for any research proposals in this priority area.The following projects concerned with low birthweight babies are already being currently funded by my Department:

(a) Professor Reynolds at University College Hospital. London is carrying out a follow-up study of the effect of intensive care on the outcome of infants of very low birthweight suffering serious perinatal illnesses and other hazards, with the aim of finding out what may be achieved, under optimal conditions of perinatal care, in the prevention of mentally and physically handicapping conditions such as cerebral palsy and in the planning of perinatal services in the country as a whole.
(b) Dr. Eva Alberman at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is carrying out a study to measure the success of medical care in reducing the mortality and morbidity of babies weighing 2,000 grammes or less at birth.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will detail the reasons why the United Kingdom and Japanese perinatal mortality statistics are not comparable; and if he will make a statement.

It is almost impossible to assess precisely the degree of comparability of perinatal mortality statistics from two different countries. Even when definitions such as those of live birth or foetal death appear to be uniform their actual interpretation may be influenced by fiscal, religious or other factors. In the case of Japan, the proportion of perinatal deaths that are classified as foetal deaths is much higher than in England and Wales. This is probably coupled with the low level of first-day deaths in Japan. Another factor likely to affect comparability is the traditional practice in Japan of reporting gestational age in lunar months. A recent international study of perinatal mortality statistics under the direction of the World Health Organisation has shown that this method of recording is not directly comparable with data recorded in completed weeks and this has obvious implications for the definition of the lower limit of the perinatal period.