baby profile 88.
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The gap in infant mortality rates between the Jewish and Arab sector declined last year compared to 2004, with deaths in Jewish infants remaining the same at 3.2 per 1,000 live births and a drop from 8.9 to 8.0 among Muslim Arabs.
The death rate among Christian Arabs is only slightly higher than the Jewish rate.
The Health Ministry, in its annual infant mortality report released on Sunday night, said the most common cause of infant death is premature birth and its complications. Nearly half of Jewish babies died because of this. The decline in infant mortality last year compared to 2002 is explained mostly by the drop in very-low-birth-weight babies and the significant decline in the number of multiple pregnancies.
A total of 644 Israeli infants died in 2005 before reaching their first birthday, 303 of them Arabs and the rest Jewish (or other non-Arabs).
Of these, 87 babies were part of multiple pregnancies, compared to 175 such multiple-pregnancy deaths in 2002. The explanation for this dramatic change is that fertility specialists tend to return fewer embryos to the wombs of infertile women, in accordance with recommendations of the National Council for Gynecology, Genetics and Perinatology.
The significantly higher infant mortality rate among Muslim infants is largely due to consanguinity (inbreeding or marriage of first cousins) that causes congenital defects and metabolic disorders. The lower socio-economic level of Muslim Israelis also explains the excess of infant deaths compared to Jewish babies.
Arabs giving birth in Israel, however, enjoy much better odds than their brethren in neighboring Middle East countries. In Syria the infant mortality rate stands at 28.61 deaths per 1,000 births; in Jordan 16.76; in Iran 40.3; in Egypt 31.33; in Iraq 48.64 and in Lebanon 23.72.
The ministry report said the figures require primary prevention of infant mortality among the whole population, with a focus on the Muslim population, especially Beduins in the south. More intensive efforts should be made to discourage consanguinity), improving genetic counseling and prenatal diagnosis and boosting the use of folic acid in women of childbearing age, the report said.
Since religious women in both the Muslim and Jewish sector are loathe to undergo an abortion even if the fetus is severely defective, efforts must be made for genetic diagnosis at the earlier stage of pregnancy and before pregnancy in couples at high risk.
Since prematurity is still the main cause of infant death, neonatal intensive care units, which are inadequately manned, must be given more attention.