March 24, 2005

Culture of Life, Pt 2

You know how hard it is to get healthcare for many families? Try to imagine how much harder it is to get dental care. A new study indicates that this may have a serious impact on newborns:

This the first time that preterm delivery has been associated with oral bacteria other than those which cause infections of the gums (periodontal disease), and adds to the growing body of research which shows that a pregnant woman's oral health is important to the health of her newborn.

Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, associate professor of epidemiology & health promotion at the New York University College of Dentistry, and director of the College's Graduate Program in Clinical Research, hypothesizes that oral bacteria associated with tooth decay can travel to the uterus as transient bacteria. Once in the uterus, the bacteria and the molecules the body produces in response to them (known as proinflammatory mediators) can lead to uterine contractions and cervical dilation. When the cervix becomes dilated, more bacteria can enter and eventually cause the uterine membranes to rupture and preterm birth to occur. ...

The article goes on to note that this extra source of bacteria seems linked to delivery of premature low birth weight babies, which condition is the leading cause of death in African American infants.

People who really gave a **** about promoting a culture of life would be on the Capitol steps tomorrow holding a press conference on the need to extend health and dental care to all Americans. Because it isn't like we don't already know what causes infant mortality, or how to reduce it. From the CDC:

What can Healthcare Providers do to Help Reduce Infant Mortality Rates?
Health care providers should advise their patients about factors that affect birth outcomes, such as maternal smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, poor nutrition, stress, insufficient prenatal care, chronic illness or other medical problems.

What can Communities and Individuals do to Help Reduce Infant Mortality Rates?
Communities can play an important role in this effort by encouraging pregnant women to seek prenatal care in the first trimester, which will ensure a better birth outcome than little or no prenatal care. Parents and caregivers should place sleeping infants on their backs and reduce bed sharing. Research has demonstrated that babies who slept on their stomachs were at a higher risk for SIDS. ...

Hmm. So sharing information on infant care and providing access to basic prenatal care, improving nutrition, reducing stress, and treating the mother's chronic health conditions improves infant survival rates. Yet there are too many families in this wealthy nation for whom adequate nutrition and preventive or ongoing healthcare is an unimaginable luxury. Too many expectant mothers are terrified of losing their jobs, of having a partner laid off, or of finding the money to care for their child once it's born.

It's obvious from the state of even our current medical knowledge that only expanding children's healthcare won't fix this problem. The mothers have to have access to medical treatment and health advice before their children are born, ideally before they get pregnant.

Of course, fathers need medical care and health education as well. Numerous health problems can impact a parent's ability to work, and create numerous other strains on family life, as I found out when I was a child.

Importantly, both parents need to understand what good nutrition means, so they can make wise decisions about the building blocks of their children's bodies. They need to know that it can be dangerous to give infants honey, or peanut butter, or how to avoid a range of other potential threats to a baby's life that don't affect adults. They need to know the little things that make all the difference, bits of knowledge that may be lost to families living in extreme poverty or blighted communities.

A real respect for life takes care of people after they're born, while they're raising their families, and when they're going through the hard times that can befall anyone. It doesn't stop when the description fetus no longer applies, and it should be a driving force long before someone becomes totally incapacitated through accident or illness.

There are countries where they consider adequate health care to be a basic human right. Why doesn't this one?

Posted by natasha at March 24, 2005 12:23 AM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | Technorati links |