HEALTH WATCH : Birth Rights

The latest statistics on U.S. infant mortality are worse than embarrassing--they are shameful.

We now rank 21st in the world: Below the least wealthy industrialized nations, such as Ireland, and nearer more advanced Third World countries, such as Costa Rica.

Over one-quarter of our 40,000 infant deaths each year are preventable, according to a report by the White House Task Force on Infant Mortality, as are one-fourth of the chronic or disabling conditions developed each year by another 400,000 babies.

But the Bush Administration has yet to release the year-old, damning report: Some critics charge the delay is because the report recommends $500 million in new public funding for prenatal, maternal and well-baby programs.

Whatever the reason, the report is another painful reminder that U.S. health care--private and public--continues to spend money on virtually everything except prevention and public education.

The report points out how economical common sense can be. Experts claim that each dollar spent on prenatal and maternity care--from drug treatment to regular checkups--eliminates the need for $3 worth of high-tech care later on.

Administration officials say the report is being "refined." But no amount of editing or fine-tuning can justify stalling on so vital an issue. The report should be released from its state of indefinite detention.

Moreover, this nation is not heeding its own folk wisdom: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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