Infant mortality rose in 2007 after dropping for 10 years, the National Census and Statistics Institute (INEC) announced this week.
Some 735 babies died before their first birthday last year, a 3.4% increase from 2006, controlling for population growth.
Infant mortality increased 6.6% among boys and decreased 2% among girls.
“Now we have to analyze the data to decide what measures to take,” said Rodolfo Hernández, director of the National Children’s Hospital, where 223 babies died last year. “We have to move from ‘worried’ to ‘busy.’”
Causes of death included birth defects and respiratory and heart problems. Two bouts of whooping cough in April and September were also partly to blame, Hernández said. Because abortion is illegal here, even fetuses with fatal problems – identified through ultrasound – are brought to term.
Another explanation could be that nearly 20% of babies were born to adolescent mothers in 2006, Hernández said. Teens are more likely to give birth prematurely or to underweight babies, who have a higher chance of dying within the year.
Still, Costa Rica has the lowest infant morality rate in Central America. The runner-up is Panama, where 19 babies died per 1,000 born in 2005, according to the United Nations Development Programme. The worst country for infants was Guatemala, where 32 infants died for every 1,000 born. Costa Rica’s rate was 11.
Infant mortality rates in Cuba and the United States, by comparison, was 6 per 1,000 that year.
The Costa Rican numbers varied greatly from province to province. Cartago, a province east of San José, had the highest infant mortality rates last year, with 12.3 deaths per 1,000 births. Heredia province, north of San José, had the lowest, with 7.4 deaths for every 1,000 births.