Imagine, if you will, a life devoid of many of the creature comforts that most take for granted. A life in the Arctic is equivalent to a life spent within the tight grasp of winter at all times. The daily conditions in the arctic seem almost like a cruel joke. The winters come with low temperatures and constant darkness, while the “summer”, and the term is used loosely, consists of temperatures just above freezing and near constant daylight. The irony of the bitter cold along with non-stop sunlight is certainly not lost among the area’s many indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants of the region. The biggest worry among residents, as it should be, involves the protection of the weakest among the population. Newborns are far more susceptible to the harrowing conditions in the arctic. As such, infant mortality is a problem. Far more of a problem, however, is the discrepancy between the infant mortality rates for indigenous (native) inhabitants vs non-indigenous (relocated) inhabitants.
Why the Difference and What Can Be Done?
It’s important to explain precisely what infant mortality (IM) is. Infant mortality is when a child dies shortly after birth. Child mortality occurs when a child dies before their fifth birthday.
The “rate” in mortality rate is defined using a set scale, by arriving at the number of deaths per 1,000 live births. An IM rate of 4 means that for every 1,000 live births, 4 infants die.
When comparing indigenous vs non-indigenous IM rates, a graph or table can be helpful. The Alaska Native Epidemiology Center has produced a series of charts that document the IM rate differences in select polar regions. The graphs can be accessed on the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s site. The results are startling. The IM rates of indigenous peoples varies from region to region, though it is regularly at least double the IM rate of non-indigenous peoples living in the same region. For example, In the Northwest Arctic Region of Alaska, the IM rate among the indigenous is 10.2 per 1,000 live births, compared to the IM rate of 5.8 among the non-indigenous inhabitants.
It’s generally accepted that the availability and readiness of health services in a region can either positively or negatively effect the IM rate. Dehydration, water pollution, malnutrition, and infectious diseases all play a part in an increased IM rate. In the polar region, the main objective is to lower indigenous IM rate not just to be equivalent to the non-indigenous, but lower. Over the past few decades, the IM rate among the indigenous inhabitants has fallen. The goal of the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium, with their annual operating budget of $430 million, is to make all inhabitants of Alaska the healthiest in the world.
Whether it be the remote northern tip of Alaska, or the southern tip of antarctica, infant mortality is unavoidable. It’s just as unavoidable as it is in Kansas. Where differences can be made is in the decline of those rates. Any life lost is too high a price to pay.