Some ba­bies more equal than oth­ers

Upper Hutt Leader - - FRONT PAGE -

Bet on it, the me­dia will be do­ing all it can in the com­ing months to draw com­par­isons be­tween the re­cent birth of HRH Prince Louis of Cam­bridge and the ar­rival of the first child of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gay­ford, due on June 17.

Ear­lier this year, there was a good deal of spec­u­la­tion about how the prime min­is­te­rial birth might af­fect the 2020 elec­tion. Merely by giv­ing birth, Ardern seems set to in­herit the Mother Of the Na­tion ti­tle for­merly held by news­caster Judy Bai­ley – but con­versely, the na­tion may also cast a with­er­ing crit­i­cal eye on how Ardern and Gay­ford raise their first born.

One thing that Prince Louis and Baby One do share in com­mon – be­sides a lack of ma­te­rial want – is the great good for­tune of not be­ing born in the United States. As Foreign Pol­icy mag­a­zine re­cently pointed out, the US does not pro­vide free ma­ter­nal care and delivery of high qual­ity, to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Re­port­edly, the av­er­age cost of a no-frills delivery in the US is $US12,290, a cae­sarean clocks in at $US16,907 on av­er­age, and in the ex­treme case of pre­ma­ture triplets, young Amer­i­can par­ents could well be look­ing at a bill of around $US870,000.

Oh, and the qual­ity of care in the US for those big bucks is still pretty dire, gen­er­ally speak­ing. The US in­fant mor­tal­ity rate for 2017 was 6.1 deaths per 1000 births, which is three times the rate in Ja­pan, and no­tably worse than the 3.58 rate in this coun­try. As for ma­ter­nal deaths, the US rate of 26 deaths per 1000 births is re­port­edly triple the rate in Bri­tain, and more than dou­ble the 11.58 es­ti­mate for New Zealand in 2015, which is the lat­est fig­ure available.

One of the main rea­sons for New Zealand not repli­cat­ing the US pat­tern of ma­ter­nal deaths comes down to the ded­i­cated work of the coun­try’s 3150 un­der­paid mid­wives. Last week, mid­wives were march­ing in eleven of our ci­ties in sup­port of a 13,000 sig­na­ture pe­ti­tion call­ing for bet­ter pay and con­di­tions.

The lack of com­pen­sa­tion for over­time – mid­wives are on call 24/7 – is only one of the bones of con­tention. While a few mid­wives have a high gross in­come of circa $100,000 (achiev­able by jug­gling many, many preg­nan­cies over an 80-hour week) the nom­i­nal in­come is rou­tinely halved by fac­tors like the con­sid­er­able travel costs. Faced with high rates of burnout, many mid­wives are leav­ing to bet­ter paid, less de­mand­ing work con­di­tions over­seas, or are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion al­to­gether. Al­ready, chronic short­ages are be­ing re­ported in ru­ral ar­eas, some of which have seen pop­u­la­tion in­creases as­so­ci­ated with tourism, and its re­lated build­ing projects.

Over­all, what mid­wives were call­ing for last week was a re­design of the meth­ods for set­ting their pay and con­di­tions. Like other stress points in a pub­lic health sys­tem sys­tem­at­i­cally un­der­funded since 2010, the mid­wives will be look­ing for re­lief in the May 17 Budget. Al­ready, though, Health Minister David Clark is promis­ing some re­lief, but not a panacea for all of the mid­wives’ le­git­i­mate con­cerns.

Un­wit­tingly, Baby One could well be­come a pawn in this de­bate.

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