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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Expectant Mothers in Japan Need Doctors

An interesting article, disturbing though as birth rates decline in Japan.

If childbirth could be conveniently timed, then Erika Yamauchi, a ruddy 22-year-old housewife eight months pregnant with her second child, would make a note in her planner to go into labor on a Monday. Preferably around 10 a.m.

In a nation where a chronically low fertility rate is causing the bottom to fall out of the baby-birthing business, this fishing community of 17,000 was forced to mothball its only maternity ward last month after losing its last local obstetrician. Now Yamauchi and 57 other expectant mothers here have to make do with temporary obstetricians flown in from another island on Mondays -- when they attend from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. before boarding evening flights back home.
That's got to be scary. They are also told if they go into labor early, before they can reach a regional hospital with a maternity ward, they can expect a 40 minute helicopter ride.

The expectant mothers of Oki Island have joined thousands of others across Japan facing a major complication: a national shortage of obstetricians. In a rapidly aging nation with one of the world's lowest birthrates, the number of doctors entering child-related specialties is plummeting -- stretching those who are left so thin that they can no longer manage existing caseloads.

Analysts attribute the shortage partly to a declining interest in obstetrics among medical students, who are wary of the long hours, high malpractice risk, and relatively average pay. But whatever the cause, the shortage is turning the miracle of birth into a logistical nightmare.
Another place where the government is going to have to step in and give incentives for doctors to become OBs.

Not only are there a lack of doctors, there is a lack of babies.

The obstetrics crisis, health officials say, has emerged as one of the biggest obstacles in the struggle to avoid Japan's date with depopulation. Japan's fertility rate, the average number of children born to a woman over a lifetime, is at a record low of 1.29 -- compared with 2.1 in the United States. As more Japanese die than are born, the population fell by nearly 20,000 to 127,776,000 in 2005 -- the first decline since the census started in 1920. If nothing is done to reverse that trend, the population is projected to fall to about 100 million by 2050, according to government statistics.

With Japan opposed to large-scale immigration that could alleviate the problem, the obstetrics crisis has raised serious questions about how this country can continue to operate the world's second-largest economy and cover the costs of its huge elderly population. One in 5 Japanese are 65 or older.
This is serious. Japan has a major crisis coming with an aging population and nobody to take care of them.