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Annu Rev Public Health. 1992;13:269-85.

Mortality of American Indian and Alaska native infants.

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Indian Health Service, Rockville, MD 20857.


Accurate determination of infant mortality rates among Indians in seriously hampered by variations in the identification of Indian persons and use of different subsets of the Indian population for various purposes. Lack of consistency in the reporting of racial origin on birth and death records is a source of substantial error. Because of these factors, more than the usual care must attend comparisons and inferences drawn from data in which these differences are present. At present, it would seem prudent to regard all data about American Indians as provisional. Even though Indian infant mortality remains higher than that for US all races, regardless of techniques used for estimates, the decline of Indian infant mortality by more than 80% since the establishment of the IHS is a truly remarkable achievement. This success has been ascribed to a combination of activities, including the provision of safe drinking water, especially as an integral part of the IHS program; the nearly universal immunization of Indian children; and emphasis upon comprehensive, community-oriented programs focused on maternal and child care. These successes have contributed to changes in the distribution of the leading causes of Indian infant mortality, so that the most prominent causes now are SIDS, congenital anomalies, injuries, and various infections. Because of these changes and advances in knowledge, the IHS has recently revised its five-year plan for dealing with infant mortality to provide greater attention to injuries and infections and has embarked upon a series of discussions with the American Academy of Pediatrics to address postneonatal deaths and the difficult problem of SIDS. Low socioeconomic conditions, so important in influencing mortality rates (7, 14, 29), have thus far proved to be intractable. In the meantime, success will depend upon ensuring optimal prenatal care, reducing those risk factors amenable to correction, and solving the problem of SIDS.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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