Detroit’s Child Mortality Rate Is a ‘Public Health Emergency’

Written by Carimah Townes

Child mortality occurs at a higher rate in Detroit than in several Third World countries, according to a study conducted by Detroit News. After collaborating with national health departments, researchers discovered that the number one factor impacting Detroit’s high child death rates is prematurity, followed by a culture of violence.

The city of 713,000 is the only U.S. city with upwards of 100 deaths per 100,000 children. In what one doctor declared a “public health emergency,” 120 out of every 100,00 children in Detroit died in 2010. The infant mortality rate — which is higher than the rates in Panama, Romania and Botswana — is another prominent issue. Between 2000 and 2011, 2,300 infants died within their first year.

Health concerns stem from the city’s long history of financial troubles; all told, 60 percent of Detroit’s youth were impoverished in 2010. Detroit’s economic conditions pose ongoing challenges for residents — including food insecurity, unsafe housing and the inability to access medical care — all of which impact child health, according to Dr. Irwin Redlene, a pediatrician and Columbia University professor.

There is a dearth of physicians in the area, and traveling to receive medical attention is hindered by a poor infrastructure. At this time, women who are not pregnant or nursing do not qualify for Medicaid, and the insurance is stripped away from them shortly after a baby is born. Dr. Elliot Attisha, who created a mobile clinic service that serves kids through the city, explained that children are not receiving necessary medical attention in this context, from “yearly checkups” to “treatment for their chronic conditions.” Many die of “common illnesses” like asthma and the flu.

High homicide rates throughout the city also foster a culture of trauma and stress among children. Officials recognize the extent to which gun violence particularly affects youth, although limited resources make it difficult to curb the problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Behavior Risk Survey concluded that many youth skipped school out of fear of violence, and more students were likely “to be threatened on school property with a weapon one or more times” than anywhere else. Altogether, thirty-six children died in Detroit as a result of violence in 2010.

While there is a concerted effort to expand medical services to youth, as hospitals and private organizations develop strategies to improve child health, Detroit’s economic chaos may foil those plans. Last year, Detroit became the largest city to file for bankruptcy — planting the seeds for 24,000 retirees to lose health benefits on March 1. The Motor City is far from economically secure enough to overhaul the systemic problems exacerbating child mortality. Nevertheless, 500,000 people throughout Michigan will be eligible for Medicaid in April, which will provide health insurance for many women with children.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Lucas Kolasa
Lucas Kolasa2 years ago


Charles Morissette

"We send BILLIONS of dollars to "Foreign aid" but have no money for our own people?

Whats wrong with this picture?"

A lot, depending on how you look at it. US foreign aid in 2013 was about 30-40 billion (, while coprorate aid overshadows that drastically (

If you're going to be angry, big cat corporations is the proper target, not africa.

Gloria Maria Ortega Zuina

¿Por qué no dejan de lanzar cohetes a la Luna y a Marte utilizan esos miles de millones de dólares

Berny p.
Berny p.2 years ago

We send BILLIONS of dollars to "Foreign aid" but have no money for our own people?

Whats wrong with this picture?

Mary Beth M.
Mary Beth M.2 years ago

It is unconscionable that any city in the US could descend to apocalyptic conditions. The infrastructure has collapsed. How can a major US city go bankrupt without assistance? How can the rest of the US sit idly by? A recent report showed a Detroit news crew responding to 911 calls where citizens waited upwards of 8 hrs for a squad car to respond only to tell the citizen that someone else would respond later. The HSUS reports as many as 55,000 feral dogs roaming in packs-once beloved pets but abandoned out of desperation-now left to fend for themselves, hungry, desperate & dangerous. Nearby communities suffering similar collapse (Highland Park) have had state sent city managers/consultants sent in who attempt to raise money by charging citizens exorbitant water bills (as much as $9000/6 months); then shutting off water when unpaid; linking unpaid water bills to tax bills leading to foreclosure. I can only shake my head and ask how can this happen in America???

Lynn Jenks
Lynn Jenks2 years ago

This is truly shocking. I lived in the suburbs of Detroit from 1995-2000 and thought the city was wonderful, with intertesting architecture and a lively cultural scene. But even then the cracks were showing. As a visitor I couldn't get paid work (no green card) but I worked as a full-time volunteer at the Michigan Humane Society in Auburn Hills. We had a full-grown tiger brought in by police, who'd confiscated him from a drug-dealer. Instead of dogs, this seller of misery was using the tiger as a guard. I learned that this was commonplace, and we certainly handled a series of big cats from similar backgrounds.
So drug-culture was endemic in Detroit, even back then, and no-one in authority seemed willing or able to do a thing about it. It should be considered a national scandal that a big city like Detroit should have become a third-world location as far as health care goes - but it could have been foreseen and prevented years ago. The question is, why wasn't it?

Masahiko Eba
.2 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn Adams2 years ago

This is tragic . . .

Sarah Baker
Sarah Baker2 years ago

So sad. Detroit's collapse should be a wake-up call to America. The economy bottomed out and the aftermath is terrifying, and it could happen again, anywhere!

Alan Lambert
Alan Lambert2 years ago

The number is shocking and very much a Third World number. Biden did get one thing right, about $3-4 TRILLION in infrastructure is necessary ASAFP.