Bradford Takes On Its Infant Death Demons

Bradford started inquiring into its infant mortality problem in 1915, but the city is still stuck with a consistently higher than average number of infant deaths. Until the mid-1990s, the rate was at least decreasing, but since then it has remained on a plateau – which is why the local strategic partnership, Bradford Vision, has stepped in.

Its report on the issue has just been published, the work of an ad hoc commission whose members include mothers who have suffered first-year child bereavement. Some of their findings confirm the obvious – especially the link between infant death and poverty – but others are tentative signposts.

The numbers involved are small. Of the 8,000 babies born annually in Bradford, 99% survive into their second year. But on any index of deprivation in Yorkshire, the city should not have lost nine out of every 1,000 infants born in 2003, compared with six in Hull and five in Doncaster and Barnsley, which are significantly poorer authorities.

This is particularly true considering Bradford’s northern arc of prosperous areas where infant mortality is below the radar. If their rate was shared by the most deprived fifth of wards the number of infants dying in Bradford would drop by 78%.

The Bradford Vision report picks out teenage motherhood, smoking, alcohol and drug use, and lack of nutrition, health information failure and genetic conditions. The first four are more of a risk in the white population, the last three in the ethnic, mostly Pakistani-origin community.

Work is well-established on tackling all seven, says Elaine Applebee, who chairs Bradford Vision, but clearly not enough. The city needs more powerful self-help groups. Better understanding of genetic risk is another priority. The partnership’s members – including the council, health authorities and Bradford University – have set up a monitoring system to try to make sure that the sense of urgency does not flag.

“A hundred years ago in Bradford, this problem was horrendous. Now it is relatively horrendous. But it kills just the same,” says Applebee.