Birmingham’s poor record of the worst infant death rate in the country is being tackled with the launch of an ambitious new genetics project in the city.
The Genetics Team at Birmingham Women’s Hospital will lead the three-year project to cut high numbers of baby deaths due to inherited genetic disorders, particularly in ethnic communities.
Part of the scheme aims to highlight the controversial issue of baby defects when first cousins marry, which is especially of concern in Asian arranged marriages.
Doctors, educators and counsellors will work with families and community groups on how to stop rare genetic conditions occurring.
Community educator Zahira Maqsood said: “This project is not about chastising families and community groups for their marriage and cultural choices.
“It is about enabling people to be aware of potential health risks and about the choices available to them.”
There were 139 infant deaths in a year, a rate of 8.2 per 100,000 of population, which is almost double the national rate of 4.8.
Two per cent of babies in Britain are born with a serious disability, but for couples who are first cousins that figure more than doubles to five per cent.
The medical risks include death but also birth defects such as blindness, deafness and metabolic disorders.
The project, funded by Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust, has a range of initiatives including screening and identifying families at high risk of genetic disorders and re-contacting families already known to the genetics service to update them with testing and information.
Inherited disorders, high levels of teenage pregnancy, deprivation and lack of education in motherhood are all factors for infant mortality in the city.