Minister rejects baby mortality alarm
Health State Secretary Clemence Ross has dismissed new research indicating the Netherlands has the highest EU baby mortality rate, claiming that different definitions of stillborn were being applied across the continent.
3 December 2003
AMSTERDAM — The junior minister at the Health Ministry, Clemence Ross, has dismissed new research indicating the Netherlands has the highest baby mortality rate in the EU, claiming that different definitions of stillborn were being applied across the continent.
Political concern was sparked last week after the Peristat research, commissioned by the European Commission, found that in the Netherlands 7.4 foetuses out of every 1,000 die a month before birth. In Germany that figure is 3.5 out of 1,000, while in Belgium that figure was 4.5.
Also, a relatively large number of babies are dying in the Netherlands in the first month after birth, with figures indicating the death rate is four out of every 1,000. The European average is 3 out of 1,000.
In response to the research, one academic warned the true figure could be higher because 10 percent of deaths are not registered within the Dutch gynaecologist system and that post-birth baby deaths are especially under-registered. But another academic claimed the ratings system was misleading because there was no longer a large difference between EU states.
After requesting time to study the findings, State Secretary Ross has since written to the Lower House of Parliament, Tweede Kamer, informing MPs that the research had not been based on unambiguous, clear terminology or methods of registration.
She said the term "stillborn" was applied differently across the continent and what is often described in other EU countries as a miscarriage, is called a stillborn in the Netherlands. The Dutch use a pregnancy borderline of 22 weeks, as does the World health organisation (WHO).
The junior minister has requested the Government Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) update a baby mortality study dating back to 2001, news agency ANP reported. The revised study must also include a comparison with other EU countries.
Furthermore, public information campaigns advising pregnant women to take folic acid to prevent the development of spina bifida in their unborn babies will be improved, as will the system of registering birth defects.
Despite the initiatives, opposition Labour PvdA MP Khadija Arib has demanded further consultations with Ross about the EU research, claiming that the state secretary has played down the findings.
The EU-commissioned researchers attributed the high death rate in the Netherlands to the fact that Dutch health authorities do not screen women for birth defects as much as other EU countries do. The Government recently decided that only pregnant women aged 36 years or older will receive the standard tests.
The researchers also said the Netherlands has a relatively large number of older mothers, while the Dutch have the second highest percentage of multiple baby births and a large number of migrant mothers, a group more susceptible to baby deaths.
The Dutch tradition of homebirths — which account for one out of every three births — did not explain the higher baby death rates, researchers said. It is possible though that the death rate will decline now that breach birth babies are more often delivered by Caesarean, which has been common practice in other EU nations for some time.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Dutch news