Health & Science

In 2021, Cuba suffered from its highest infant mortality rate in 20 years

Cuba reported a 55% increase in infant mortality rate in a year. The government justifies it with the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s rate is the highest in 20 years.

newborn baby
With 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is the highest in 20 years | © Solen Feyissa

On January 2, the Health ministry of Cuba released official data about infant mortality rate. With 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021, Cuba’s infant mortality rate increased by 55% in a year according to official figures.

Infant mortality is the death of children under the age of 1. The main causes of death in the country were mainly associated with premature birth, low birth weight and delayed uterine growth.

In its official statement, the government explains these figures were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which increased the number of patients in hospitals, including pregnant women.

Authorities point out the Covid-19 pandemic cause births before term

Some women were in critical conditions which forced doctors to stop pregnancies before term, which in the end increased the risks of infant mortality. “The larger the belly is, the more it conditions respiratory failure and in many cases makes the interruption of pregnancy necessary to be able to ventilate women efficiently“, the head of the pediatric center of the military hospital in La Havana explained in the government statement.

Studies have shown an increased risk of developing severe Covid-19 if pregnant women are infected. The maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 177 per 100,000 live births in Cuba. It was 36 in 2017 according to World Health Organization’s latest data.

WHO also reports Covid-19 during pregnancy has been associated with an increased likelihood of preterm birth, which increases the risks of infant mortality.

Moreover, even if the transmission of the virus between the mother and the fetus is not proven, the baby’s growth may be affected by a lower oxygen supply to the placenta.

Although children have milder symptoms with Covid-19 infections than elderly people, more than two hundreds of underage Cubans were in serious conditions, which put higher pressure on the country’s pediatric services.

In 2021, Cuba recorded 177,000 children infected by Covid-19 compared to 1,300 in 2020. It included 11,700 children below one year old. In total, only 18 deaths occurred as a result of Covid-19 combined with other medical conditions.

The highest infant mortality rate in Cuba in 20 years

According to the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, the global infant mortality rate was 27 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020.

With 4.08 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020 (uncertainty interval between 3.4 and 5.03), Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States or Canada. The two North American countries have an infant mortality rate of 5.44 and 4.38 respectively.

And with the safest UN IGME estimates, Cuba’s infant mortality rate reported by authorities is the highest in 20 years.

Last summer, protests ignited in the streets of Cuba over a lack of food and medicine because of the economic crisis in the country. For Diario de Cuba, the difficult economic situation is another factor influencing the figures that the government didn’t mention. It also raises doubts about the veracity of the figures as doctors are allegedly forced to falsify statistics to look better than they are.

Cuba registra una tasa de mortalidad infantil de 7,6 por mil nacidos vivos, en un año complejo debido a la pandemia de la COVID-19, Cuba ministry of Health, January 2022, Free accessMaternal mortality in 2000-2017, World Health Organization, Free access, PDF

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