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By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug 2) – A new Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) government study has concluded that at least half of all baby deaths on remote outer islands were not reported to the Ministry of Health last year, and has lowered the RMI’s total estimated population by about 8,000 people because of heavy out-migration to the United States.

More eye-opening news for the outer islands, in addition to the severe under-reporting of infant deaths, is that the infant death rate on the outer islands is 90 deaths per 1,000 births or three times the national level of 30 — which means the infant mortality rate on the outer islands in this former American territory is among the worst in the world.

The "RMI Projections 2006-2010" involved the Ministry of Health, Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office and the New Caledonia-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community in a detailed review of population data for the 2004 to 2006 period.

"Quite scary to think that of 51 infant deaths in 2006, 25 (or half) were not recorded in your registration system in the outer islands," SPC statistics official Gerald Haberkorn said in a memo to Health Secretary Justina Langidrik and planning director Carl Hacker.

The report for the first time is factoring in out-migration for the Marshall Islands population projection. An average of more than 1,000 Marshallese have left the country each year since 1996, but this was never previously included in population estimates, according to the report.

Population projections based on the 1999 census pegged the 2007 population at about 60,000.

But the new report says that the mid-year 2007 estimate is 52,580 — or nearly 7,500 fewer than projected and generally believed.

There are many implications of the new report for health, education and national planning. For example, it has immediately led to a change and lowering of the life expectancy of Marshallese.

The report is also likely to require the Ministry of Health to revise its many health indicators, based on the lower population, which could lead to the rates of some of them — such as TB and leprosy — being worse than currently stated.

While the 2006 Ministry of Health reports set life expectancy at 70.6 years for women and 67 for men, the new report suggests Marshallese are not living this long. The report recommends lowering life expectancy to 67.4 for women and 63.7 for men.

"It appears that the 1999 census-based life expectancies and fertility estimates were too generous in that they would have resulted in births and death numbers we cannot see," said the new report. The lower life expectancy figures of 67.4 for women and 63.7 for men "are more compatible with the annual number of deaths we have been witnessing," the report said, adding that these could still be too high based on the deaths possibly still being under-reported, despite the big effort made over the past few months to reconcile the numbers.

The fertility level — average number of children per mother —was pegged at seven children per mother in the 1988 census and at 5.7 in the 1999 census. The latest report reduces that to 4.4 children per mother.

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