Child mortality occurs at a higher rate in Detroit than in several Third World countries, according to a study conducted by Detroit News. After collaborating with national health departments, researchers discovered that the number one factor impacting Detroit’s high child death rates is prematurity, followed by a culture of violence.
The city of 713,000 is the only U.S. city with upwards of 100 deaths per 100,000 children. In what one doctor declared a “public health emergency,” 120 out of every 100,00 children in Detroit died in 2010. The infant mortality rate — which is higher than the rates in Panama, Romania, and Botswana — is another prominent issue. Between 2000 and 2011, 2,300 infants died within their first year.
Health concerns stem from the city’s long history of financial troubles; all told, 60 percent of Detroit’s youth were impoverished in 2010. Detroit’s economic conditions pose ongoing challenges for residents — including food insecurity, unsafe housing, and the inability access medical care — all of which impact child health, according to Dr. Irwin Redlene, a pediatrician and Columbia University professor.
There is a dearth of physicians in the area, and traveling to receive medical attention is hindered by a poor infrastructure. At this time, women who are not pregnant or nursing do not qualify for Medicaid, and the insurance is stripped away from them shortly after a baby is born. Dr. Elliot Attisha, who created a mobile clinic service that serves kids through the city, explained that children are not receiving necessary medical attention in this context, from “yearly checkups” to “treatment for their chronic conditions.” Many die of “common illnesses” like asthma and the flu.
High homicide rates throughout the city also foster a culture of trauma and stress among children. Officials recognize the extent to which gun violence particularly affects youth, although limited resources make it difficult to curb the problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Behavior Risk Survey concluded that many youth skipped school out of fear of violence, and more students were likely “to be threatened on school property with a weapon one or more times” than anywhere else. Altogether, thirty-six children died in Detroit as a result of violence in 2010.
While there is a concerted effort to expand medical services to youth, as hospitals and private organizations develop strategies to improve child health, Detroit’s economic chaos may foil those plans. Last year, Detroit became the largest city to file for bankruptcy — planting the seeds for 24,000 retirees to lose health benefits on March 1. The Motor City is far from economically secure enough to overhaul the systemic problems exacerbating child mortality. Nevertheless, 500,000 people throughout Michigan will be eligible for Medicaid in April, which will provide health insurance for many women with children.