Alarming Mortality Rates for Premature Babies in Israel

view from above of tiny premature twins

Photo: Efrat Feldman

To mark World Prematurity Day, the Israel Forum for Prematurity released a report on the care of premature babies in Israeli hospitals. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich summarized the findings for the Jerusalem Post, stating that “The death rate of premature babies in Israel remains twice as high as that in other Western countries, with 277 dying in an average year.”

According to the article, the number of premature babies is increasing, with 45 more born last year compared to the previous year. The mortality rate of the smallest premies, those under 27 weeks, is even greater than twice that of western countries. Many premature births involve multiples.

The article mentions that one of the measures underway to reduce mortality is the foundation of a milk bank.  “The ministry said it has decided on a pilot project to set up a mothers’ milk bank, and that two hospitals that expressed interest are in the advanced stages for formulating such a program.”

Israel is one of the few countries with no official milk bank,  designed to provide human milk for babies whose mothers can’t provide it. Any costs involved in setting up the bank are more than offset by the savings incurred through lower risk of infection. For example, premies who receive infant formula are at much higher risk of necrotizing enterocolitis. NEC is expensive to treat, and responsible for many premie deaths.

Israel should follow the example of Brazil. Its advanced system for collecting human milk contributed to a slash in infant mortality by two-thirds. While attending breastfeeding conferences in Colombia and Costa Rica, I was struck by the governments’ effects in Latin America work to promote and encourage breastfeeding. Many policies in Israel inhibit breastfeeding, including routine separation of mothers and infants during the hospital stay, and promotion of infant formula,

Israel offers a high level of pregnancy care, with more prenatal testing and fertility treatment than any other country. So it’s disappointing that our system falls short after the babies are born.


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  1. I was wondering why we get it so wrong – maybe the western approach to medicine – treat the disease with medication = formula instead of focusing on prevention – mothers’ milk

  2. My daughter who is a nurse in Shneider children’s hospital reckons that one of the problems is that the babies are kept together in one room, so it it so easy for them to catch any viruses etc

  3. That’s really sad that babies in Israel don’t do as well. I’m shocked because I thought Israel was comparable medically to America.
    My baby was born preemie in NY and was in the same room as all the other babies, so I don’t think that’s the reason. The whole NICU is one big room, which it needs to be, since you need everyone to be able to access every baby. But the rules were really really strict in terms of hygeine. you had to wash your hands coming in, cover cell phones in plastic bags, and wear a gown if touching the baby. Kangaroo care was encouraged except for when the baby’s heart rate showed that it was stressing them.

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