- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 August 1, 2003 

Report: Number of infant deaths 12 times higher in Caucasus countries

UNICEF's Carol Bellamy.

A report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) accuses Armenia, some European countries and some countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States of underreporting their infant death rates.

"Our research showed that infant mortality is a great problem in these countries, and that the numbers are higher than suggested in the official data," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.

Speaking about overall conditions in all the surveyed counties, she added: "We have looked beyond the official statistics and talked to mothers in their own homes. And their stories reveal a child survival crisis."

According to UNICEF 's Social Monitor Report 2003, the infant death rate in the Caucasus and Central Asia is twelve times greater than in western industrialized countries.

Presenting the organization's report last week in Rome, Bellamy said in some countries deaths among children less than one year old were four times higher than the official counts.

The report compares the official infant mortality rate in these countries against data gathered in face-to-face interviews with women.

As it specifically concerned Armenia: the report (based on research conducted in 2000-2001) found an infant mortality rate of 36 deaths per 1,000 live births. The numbers sharply differ from official government data, which puts the ratio at 15 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Vahan Poghosyan says the Ministry of Health will take measures to improve infant welfare.

(By comparison, Azerbaijan reported 17 deaths per 1,000; the UNICEF survey put the number at 74 per 1,000.)

In response to the UNICEF report, officials from the Armenian Ministry of Health say that the official figures on infant mortality are correct as they come from maternity hospitals and polyclinics.

And the local chapter of UNICEF says that both the statistics of the Ministry of Health and of UNICEF are correct. The discrepancy, the local office maintains, is conditioned by the different ways of collecting figures.

At a press conference last Friday the head of the first aid department of the Ministry of Health, Vahan Poghosyan, said the UNICEF report on child survival crisis is based on stories of individuals, and the rates in some cases included abortions and childbirth at home, which in some cases brought fatalities.

Poghosyan added, though, that there are concerns about conditions in the republic's maternity hospitals, and admitted that record-keeping is poor. He further pledged that: "The Ministry of Health will take measures to reduce the number of children born at home and will spend more financing to improve the quality of service to mothers and newborn."

Armenian doctors attribute the high rate of infant deaths to poverty, poor maternal health and poor health care service.

"All women . . .only start to take care of their health when they are pregnant," says gynecologist Ephrosia Nahapetyan, the head of Woman's Reproductive Health Department of Policlinic No 8. "In many cases the problems they have were possible to prevent or avoid, if they and their husbands had visited doctors before pregnancy."

Gynecologist Ephrosia Nahapetyan says women should start to take care of their health before they get pregnant.

As for the information about Armenia's underreporting of infant death Nahapetyan attributes it to simple misunderstanding.

"When we speak about infant death we have to divide them into three groups," she says. "Prenatal period ranges from the 28th week of pregnancy to the 7th day after birth. In 2001 in Armenia the studies of the Health Ministry showed a prenatal mortality rate of 15 deaths per 1,000 live births. And this is the official and correct statistics.

Nahapetyan says that the early period is till one month of life, and then the infant death which last till one year of life.

The gap in figures could be a hold-over from Communist times, when hospitals and medical staffs faced penalties if they reported an increase in infant deaths.

Most infant deaths are preventable according to the report, which was produced by UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center in Florence

The Social Monitor is an annual regional report examining the well being of children in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States.

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