Infant mortality

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 25 September 2016

Infant mortality

Infant mortality simply refers to the number of death amongst the young ones per 1000 births. In this historical study, infant mortality rate between a range of time starting from 1750 to 1917 is studied. Its rate varies from one century to another with the 18th century recording the highest number of deaths among the young. Progressing towards the 20th century, there has been a drastic decline in the death rate of infants. Some medical professionals believe that this is because of the social health reform and medical improvement during the 19th and 20 centuries.

On the other hand, some scholars, like Thomas McKeown, strongly suggest that this is mainly attributed to the improved nutrition and sanitation of the infant’s environment (McKeown, 121). Thomas McKeown is the scholar who spearheaded the well known McKeown Thesis. There has been an ongoing debate between the two ideas about which played the main significant role in checking the rampant death of the infants for several decades featured in countless student reading, so who actually saw the truth between the 19 and the 20th centuries?

Infant mortality reduced over the centuries starting in the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States. The highest rate of death among the infants was observed in the first half of the 18th century (McKeown, 65) , this high rate of infant mortality was viewed as caused by societal break-down and poor policies rather that specific pathological organism. This was considered as a reflection of a poor frame work in the society. Between 1750 and 1800, the infant mortality rate was at the peak with many of the infants succumbing to their diseases.

At the time, the technical aspects in undertaking comprehensive investigation to establish the actual cause of the diseases and finally finding the cure had not been successful. Many infants therefore died in large numbers. The community attributed all this to the broad and unfortunate societal problems. Many major countries had areas with indecent housing, flooded basements, contaminated water supplies and poverty, resulting in diseases such as typhoid, scarlet fever, tuberculosis and typhus to thrive (McVeigh).

This in the end challenged them to actually think of ways to handle these problems. What they have come to conclude was that prenatal and postnatal diseases were ultimately influenced by external factors such as food deficiency, alcohol and tobacco use (Mudd, 117). While diseases and disabilities that are determined during conception or after birth are invariably different, both their origins can still be potentially controlled. In the second half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, the government of the United States came up with efforts to curb this menace.

They recommended the removal of infants in the cities; this was considered a major success since most mothers who were residing in the city end up having their young ones dying at a tender age. Some prenatal diseases, for example was due to exposure to harmful toxins in the environment, thereby affecting the child’s development in the mother’s womb (Mudd, 117-118). This was viewed that the city exposed the young to unhealthy environment hence exposing them to diseases. The congestion in the city was also found to facilitate the spread of contagious diseases among the young.

Various forms of pollutants were rampant in the city and therefore the infant could easily contract infections. Many women at the turn of the 18th century were working in gas lit factories and sweatshops, which may affect their pregnancy (McVeigh). The mothers were advised to settle in their rural homes where these hazards were considered to have minimal consequences on the infants. It was fortunate that legislations were finally passed during 1848 to promote genuine concern for public health (McKeown, 66).

Similarly, international city in Great Britain during the era, as well as an important location throughout Europe and the rest of the world in terms of international trade and human transit. Because of so many international produce, goods and people arriving in London daily, it became clear to medical professionals that foreign bodies can often be the bearers of disease; from London, such illnesses were doomed to spread throughout the rest of the country. In helping London’s citizens stay healthy, infant mortality rates were automatically dropped simultaneously.

By exploring London’s newspaper archives, as well as other contemporary newspaper articles and even the correspondence of health care workers during the era, the information concerning infant mortality rates can be gathered and compared. In contrast, some scholars, such as Thomas McKeown, strongly suggest that this is mainly attributed to the improved nutrition and sanitation (Colgrove). The milk supply was improved among the young one, because the milk handling and supply of edible products was improved by the government. This government strategy has been significant in preserving the life of infants at the time.

Child hygiene was another factor considered in checking the high rate of infant mortality. A child hygiene program was established by the government to ensure the infants were provided with the highest quality of hygiene . With the advancement on the technological innovations, infant mortality reduced in significant proportions over the centuries. The discovery of the various medical equipments and apparatus including the microscope and the stethoscope in the late 19th century boosted the medical field’s capabilities to handle these challenges (McVeigh).

Simultaneous to this, great strides in the improvement of education of interns started happening in Europe. The scientist who specialized in medical microbiology studied deeper and discovered very many minute microbes which were found to cause high rate of infant mortality. These microbes were found to thrive on unhygienic conditions therefore causing high rate of infant mortality. They were found to be rampant especially in poorly handled milk and other foodstuff.

With these discoveries of stethoscope and the microscope in the 20th century, many diseases were kept under control. This was because scientists had become knowledgeable about health matters. Before this tremendous discovery, many minute microorganisms causing several diseases amongst the young ones were at large and scientists were puzzled with unchecked high rate of infant mortality. The electron microscope with high magnification enabled these scientists to recognize the various disease causing organisms including viruses and bacteria.

They managed to know the specific diseases that these microorganisms caused and the appropriate control measures needed to keep them at bay. They came up with antibiotics to cure infection in the infants. Antibiotics such as penicillin were also discovered in the early 20th century. At this time, due to these discoveries and appropriate measures taken by the government, the infant mortality drastically reduced. Medical attention to the infants was considered a priority and hence reducing the rate of infant’s death.

Another important factor in curbing infant mortality is the development of obstetrics and the rise of gynecology in that time (McVeigh). It encompassed all aspects of pregnancy, and allowed sanitary and safe conditions for the mother and child. Arguably, poor sanitary conditions during childbirth are also one of the main causes of infant mortality in earlier centuries. McKeown’s views on public health sparked controversy during the 1970’s and 1980’s with its focus on allocation of medical resources.

While the foundation of his empirical views might be considered flawed today, it spearheaded studies of where should public health practitioners should focus their efforts and the most important determinants of a society’s mortality (Colgrove). The thesis he authored was about the explanation of the dramatic population growth from around 1770 to the present (Szreter). It stated that it was because of the domino effect of improved economic conditions: better standards of living and enhanced nutritional status that strengthened infant resistance to most diseases.

His works have been about the synthesis of these advanced ideas and later on his works began getting much attention because of its profound content (Szreter). It was curious to note that it attracted more audiences during its later years, even though it didn’t substantially contain any new information. It was probably the stronger awareness in public health that caused this. However, McKeown will always be considered a figure of importance because of his role in shaping contemporary systems to prevent infant mortality.

Other factors that can be attributed to a precipitous decline in infant mortality rate starting from the late 19th and early 20th century include the improvement in economic growth, improvement in nutrition, new sanitary measures by the government and advances in knowledge about infant care in the united states of America (Colgrove). Though little is known about how each of this factors contributed in the reduction in the infant mortality rate, a systematic review of the data from the specific period stressed that providing clean milk in market was the main contributor to this decline in the infant mortality .

However, the writer of this journal was biased in the sense that handling milk supply and milk hygiene was not the only cause of infant mortality. It‘s important to note that the both technological advancement and improved nutrition played a very crucial role in checking the infant mortality rate starting from the late 18th to early 20th century. The perception that the high rate of infant mortality was due to societal problems and poor policies could not help in reversing the trend in the first half of the 18th century.

Technological advancement saw the discovery of the various medical apparatus and equipments in the 20th century which helped in the reduction of high infant mortality rate. The scientists discovered the actual causes of these deaths being pathological organism which could be controlled. The economic growth and education enabled this scientist to conduct further research and hence control measures were devised which came up with cure for various diseases affecting the infants.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 25 September 2016

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