The Virgin Islands’ first Perinatal Conference this month was a well-conceived event that provided an important opportunity to reflect candidly on the quality of maternal health care in the territory.
It is heartening that the VI is well ahead of the global average in key birth indicators, but with a new hospital and expanding health system it should continue striving to improve until it rivals the United Kingdom and other world leaders.
This month, for example, BVI Health Services Authority officials touted the territory’s neonatal mortality rate: For infants under 28 days old in the VI, they said, the death rate over the past five years was around 9.52 per 1,000 live births. This number compares very favourably with the global rate of 19 and the rate of 16.1 across the Caribbean and Latin America. But it is less impressive next to the United States (5.6), England and Wales (3.8), and Japan, the world leader with 0.9.
The VI’s recent rate of stillbirths ranks similarly: Health officials said this month that the territory has seen one or two stillbirths out of an average of 265 annual births in recent years — a rate between 3.8 and 7.6 per 1,000. In 2015, by comparison, the average global rate was about 18.4, but in the US it was under six and in England and Wales it was about 4.4.
Officials are wise to bring awareness to such numbers, both in order to laud the territory’s successes and to acknowledge that there is room for improvement — as they rightly did this month.
As the VI works toward that improvement, public dialogue like the discussions held at the conference is crucial. Speaking out about such numbers will help the territory understand its place on the world stage; spread awareness about crucial issues faced by parents; and help policymakers understand the importance of allocating sufficient resources to health care.
A related positive outcome this month was the formation of Tiny Champs, a support group for parents of children born prematurely. Clearly, from hearing members speak, this is a much-needed organisation — there are many common complications that premature babies can face both at birth and later in life — and we hope that it will continue meeting, providing support and educating the community.
Moving forward, more candid and honest discussions will be crucial to ensuring that the hospital is properly staffed and has the equipment and other resources needed to be a world-class institution.
Kudos, then, to conference organisers. We hope to see more such events in the future.