Warning to pregnant women: Living in the United States may be hazardous to your new baby's health.
A new report notes that, among 33 industrialized countries, the United States ties for second-last for newborn deaths, along with Malta, Poland and Slovakia -- countries not known for their cutting-edge medical technology. (Newborn mortality refers to deaths within the first month of birth.)
The United States beat out only Latvia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, and one of the least developed countries in Europe.
"The United States has more neonatologists and neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but its newborn rate is higher than any of those countries," notes the annual State of the World's Mothers report, recently released by the international group Save the Children.
The U.S. newborn mortality rate is about 5 per 1,000 births. That's three times higher than Japan's, and about 2.5 times that of Finland, Iceland and Norway.
It gets worse, however.
In terms of infant mortality -- children dying within their first year -- the United States can't even beat Cuba. In 2004, according to the report, the United States rate was seven per 1,000 births. Cuba's was six.
African-Americans are at particular risk. Their infant mortality rate, for instance, approaches 14 per 1,000 births, worse than strife-torn countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro.
What does it say when the richest and most powerful country in all of history cannot protect the lives of infants?
Per capita gross domestic product in the United States is estimated at $42,000, according to the World Fact Book of the CIA. In Cuba, it's $3,300. Yet economically beleaguered Cuba does a better job than we do at protecting the lives of its infants.
Two areas are critical for solving this problem: health care and education.
Many industrialized countries offer free health care to all pregnant women and young children. In the United States, by contrast, many women don't get prenatal care and more than 11 percent of all children do not even have health insurance, let alone free health care, according to the National Coalition on Health Care.
The Save the Children report also notes that mothers with less education are at higher risk for delivering before the baby is at full term. Throughout the United States, newborn deaths are most common in states where young women are less educated.
The United States spends billions on high-end medical advances. It's time to remind ourselves that all the technology in the world won't help if we forget the basics: good schools and health care for all.
We are the richest country in the world. We can do it.
Barbara Miner is a Milwaukee-based journalist who writes frequently on social issues. She can be reached at email@example.com.