Infant mortality in Albania is twice the regional average

Last year, infant mortality stayed high, confirming that Albania has the highest levels of this phenomenon in Europe, owing to widespread poverty and a lack of medical services, among other factors.

According to INSTAT data, 228 newborns under the age of one died in 2021, a decrease of 18.8% from 281 in 2020. INSTAT did not release the infant mortality rate (1 life loss in 1 yr per 1000 births) this year due to a research methodology change, as it had in previous years. 

The old methodology predicted an infant mortality rate of 8.3 in 2021. Previously, researchers who process the data from the Institute of Public Health stated that there are some issues with reporting the indicator.

Diseases that occur during birth are the leading cause of infant mortality in 2021, accounting for approximately 44% of all infant mortalities, according to official INSTAT figures. The second leading cause was “problems in pregnancy, postpartum period, and childbirth.” This diagnosis was responsible for 21% of all deaths, while 19% died from circulatory system diseases, 9.2% from associated abnormalities, 3.5% from respiratory problems, and 3.5% from other diseases.

To reduce the risk of stillbirth and pregnancy complications, a pregnant woman must have at least 4 prenatal visits, with the first visit occurring between 8 and 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to World Health Organization guidelines.

The majority of Albanian mothers follow these guidelines, according to the 2017-’18 Demographic Health Survey (ADHS), which provides details on population health, with 78% having four or more visits before birth and 82% having their first visit during the first trimester.

In cities, both indicators are higher. In cities, 82% of women had at least four prenatal visits, compared to 73% in rural areas. Poverty and education level, according to the survey, are important factors in providing health services to pregnant women. According to the survey results, the number of pregnant women who take iron and vitamins varies significantly by province.

In 2018, only 13% of pregnant women in Kukes received iron and supplements prior to giving birth, compared to 80% of pregnant women in Gjirokastra. The Institute of Public Health previously found out that the majority of infant deaths happened in rural areas with low-education parents.

This finding is still factual today and has gotten worse, because paediatric medical services in the districts are scarce or non-existent, and rising urban poverty makes it difficult for young mothers to access medical care. Surgeons are not available at regional or municipal health centres. New mothers who require birth surgery must travel to Tirana; however, some pregnancy complications, like “negative rhesus,” require immediate treatment.

According to public employees, the districts’ lack of surgical services has increased infant mortality. The district’s lack of doctors who assist pregnant women and monitor the baby’s health after birth has also contributed to an increase in infant mortality.

The majority of surgeons are Tiranians who work part-time, with no services available on weekends. Eurostat noted that Albania had an infant fatality rate of 10.3 per 1000 births and that this rate was expected to remain high in 2020, at 10 infants per 1000 births. This rate more than doubles the regional average, according to Eurostat.

Kosovo has the highest rate, with 8.7 stillborns per 100 babies born, followed by North Macedonia (5.6), Serbia (4.8), and Montenegro (2.4). In 2019, the EU’s average infant mortality rate was 3.4.