Infant Mortality

The Economic Effect of Infant Mortality

Infant mortality is the death of young children under the age of one (1). The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), defined as the number of deaths in children under one year of age per 1000 live births in the same year is regarded as a highly sensitive measure of economic health. The rate of infant death in a country reflects the condition of the health sector and how much support mothers get from government during pregnancy and after birth.

 Causes of Infant Death

Some of the major causes of infant deaths include the following:

  • Congenital defects also known as birth defects occur while a fetus is still in the womb. 
  • Preterm Birth and Low-Birth-Weight: premature birth is a birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. Low birth weight is birth weight of less than 2500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces) regardless of the length of gestation.
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): Sudden Infant Death Syndrome also referred to a crib death is the unexplained sudden death of a seemingly healthy baby under the age of one.
  • Pregnancy complications: maternal pregnancy complications are problems that occur with the mother during gestation.
  • Placenta and Umbilical cord complications

Economic effects of infant mortality

The following are some of the negative effects of infant death on the economic development of a country:

  • Low Productivity: Productivity is the ratio between the amount of output produced and the amount of resources used in the course of production. The resources may be any combination of materials, machines, men and space. There is no doubt that increase in the rate of infant death in a country reduces the productivity level since it reduces the workforce of the country (the future of work). Currie (2009), argued that health in childhood affects human capital accumulation, health and labour market status in adulthood. It is obvious from his view that there is a negative relationship between productivity level and infant death rate.  Inadequate funding and management of the health sector leads to high rate of infant death which in turn reduces the productivity level of the country.
  • Reduced Future Workforce: The workforce is the total number of people in a country or region who are physically able to do a job and are available for work. High rate of infant death reduces the future labour force of the country. Infant mortality is still a matter of great concern in Africa and Nigeria is not an exception. It has several implications on an economy and one of such is the fact that high rate of infant death reduces the number of people available for work. It has adverse effect on future human capital creation process and the quality of future workforce.
  • Heavy Impact on the Health Care System: High rate of infant mortality indicates lack or inadequate provision of effective health care delivery. Nigeria as a nation continue to face challenges in meeting the health needs of her people and this increases the rate of infant death in the country. Infant mortality rate symbolizes a measure of a country’s health policy, systems and practices, an aspect of its national development. Infant mortality resolves around primary health care inadequacies, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, generally centering on low maternal welfare. It is therefore important to build a proper health care system in order to reduce infant mortality rate.
  • Psychological and Poor Mental Well being of Parents: The loss of an infant may be the worst trauma any parent can experience. Most bereaved parents experience depression symptoms, poorer well being and more health problems as after- effects of infant death. A parent who grieves may have serious complications such as suicidal thoughts, developing a mental health disorder or an eating disorder (Dr. Kirsten Fuller, 2008). The mental and health trauma of loosing an infant can kick off physical symptoms such as stomach pains, muscles cramps and headaches. One surprising impact often seen among parents mourning the loss of a child is known as the Broken-Heart Syndrome- a condition that presents oddly like a heart-attack. Symptoms include crushing chest pain.

The parents especially mothers lose a potential source of economic support in their older ages.

This is no news to many Nigerian parents who have lost their infants as the ripple effect of the loss lingers for several years up on till the old age of the parents who still confess that they believe their dead children would have been a support system to them If they were alive. Many parents especially mothers state that even decades following the loss of a child that their sense of joy in life has simply not returned. These changes may also have an effect on the parents’ economic well-being. The trauma can be so intense considering the fact that children that could have been economic pillars in the lives of their parents are lost in such heart-breaking circumstances. Such bereaved parents in their older years are unable to receive economic support they ought to enjoy from their children.

The death of infants causes availability of household support thereby limiting women from meeting their community obligations. Mothers play a vital role in nursing sick household members back to normal health status, giftings to the elderly and they constitute future capital creation process of the society, however, the pain associated with the death of an infant can make her loose all of these potentials thereby adding to the number of persons depending on household support.  Most parents especially mothers experience lack of drive, continuity and stability after losing an infant. The shock and trauma that follows the death of infants can make a mother withdraw from pursuing her dreams and aspirations thereby making her rely on household support for survival. Bereaved mothers relying on household support often times are unable to participate fully in performing their obligations to the society.

Increase in infant mortality reduces the GDP of a country

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the total value of consumption expenditure; gross private saving, net tax revenues and total private transfer payments to foreigners. Increase in infant mortality has a negative relationship with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country because infant deaths reduce the quantity of labour force and hence, the number of people involved in output production.

There is a very strong relationship between infant mortality and economic development: a low Infant Mortality Rate means increased economic development. It is therefore imperative for a country to acquire and properly manage health facilities and build a strong health system so as to reduce the rate of infant death and boost economic development of the nation.

 It is possible to improve survival and health of newborns and end preventable stillbirths by reaching high coverage of quality antenatal care, skilled care at birth, postnatal care for mother and baby, and care of small and sick newborns. Accelerated progress for neonatal survival and promotion of health and wellbeing requires strengthening quality of health care as well as ensuring availability of quality health services for the small and sick newborn.

Essential Newborn Care

All infants should receive the following:

  • Thermal protection (e.g. promoting skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant)
  • Hygienic umbilical cord and skin care
  • Early and exclusive breastfeeding
  • Assessment for signs of serious health problems or need of additional care. 
  • Preventive treatment (e.g. immunization, BCG and hepatitis B and vitamin K).

Families should be advised to:

  • Seek prompt medical care if necessary (danger signs include: feeding problems, or if the newborn has reduced activity, difficulty in breathing, fever).
  • Register the birth.
  • Bring the baby for timely vaccination according to national schedules.

Some infants require additional attention and care during hospitalization and at home to minimize their health risks


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