Recently I was listening to Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal interview a Russia-based NPR health correspondent about the intersection between health and economic prosperity. Much of their discussion applies nicely to Lane County’s poor perinatal outcomes and our prospects for future economic growth and diversification.
Russia, like Lane County, faces a number of complex public health issues that significantly dampen prospects for attracting investors. Increasingly, Russian policymakers are connecting improved health outcomes across the lifespan with national economic development. Accordingly, issues similar to Lane County’s that diminish prospects for good fetal-infant outcomes are elevated to national priority status. In other words, promoting good health and well being become a compelling potential on-the-ground resource for attracting investment and building economic prosperity.
Regarding bad health outcomes, here’s how the correspondent puts it:
That’s not just bad for Russians, it’s bad for Russia’s economic prospects. International investors use certain health statistics — like infant mortality and life expectancy — to gauge a country’s economic future. So to deal with these troubling statistics, the Russian government announced a plan to build 23 neonatal centers across the country with state-of-the-art Western technology.
Ironically, Russia’s plan to build more neonatal centers comes at a time when the March of Dimes suggests checks on the over-supply of NICUs relative to actual need in this country. This isn’t to say that NICUs are not needed in Russia but rather that what may be needed in one place can be in over supply elsewhere with diminishing returns for that population or community.
As Russia strives to correlate infant mortality rates with attracting investment, Lane County, so far, has not. If we did, we would talk about negative ramifications for our high fetal-infant loss in terms of lost investors and an anemic rate of home-grown innovation. We would connect these losses with the current state of the local economy.
Why are health statistics, including infant and fetal-infant mortality rates, predictive of regional economic success? Tragically, fetal-infant losses are the tip of the public health iceberg. Hidden beneath the surface lies a continuum of sickness and suffering that affects homes, schools, and industry. Investors, who want to know a healthy, creative and innovative workforce is ready to move ideas to the next level, look very closely at these numbers before making a capital commitment.
Were we to move Lane County’s response to a much-too-high rate of fetal and infant loss beyond its current niche lodging among public health, social service, non-profit and community-member focus, how swiftly might we move? Healthy Babies, Healthy Communities coalition members would, no doubt, begin to count among its coalition partners representatives from business, hospital administration and university leaders. It would also garner consistent local coverage in the business section of the newspaper.
Current coalition members have a variety of sound approaches to improving perinatal outcomes throughout the community. Elevating the discussion to action through partnership is needed to carry many of worthy ideas forward. One simple and inexpensive idea with the potential to significantly improve the health of Lane County mothers and babies is printing brief facts on paystubs, church programs, explanation of benefit forms and bank statements, etc. about the importance of the last weeks of pregnancy. Non-medical (elective) induction is a common practice despite the solid research condemning its practice. The March of Dimes has championed the correction of this national practice and would be a source of correct information. Employers, employees / expectant parents, extended family and the community all gain from correcting the unnecessary damage done via unnecessary inductions.