Many hospitals in China stop newborn delivery services as birth rate drops


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Many hospitals in China stop newborn delivery services as birth rate drops

FILE PHOTO: A newborn baby is weighed after it was born at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province October 31, 2011.

REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Dubbed as 'the obstetric winter,' as hospitals in various provinces have in the past two months announced that they will close their obstetric departments, because of a dip in demand amid a record drop in new births

HONG KONG – Many hospitals in China have stopped offering newborn delivery services this year, state-backed news outlet Daily Economic News reported, with industry experts warning of an “obstetric winter” due to declining demand amid a record drop in new births.

Hospitals in various provinces including in eastern Zhejiang and southern Jiangxi have in the past two months announced that they will close their obstetric departments, according to notices viewed by Reuters.

The Fifth People’s Hospital of Ganzhou City in Jiangxi said on its official WeChat account that obstetric services would be suspended from March 11.

Zhejiang’s Jiangshan Hospital of Traditional Medicine announced on its WeChat page that its obstetrics business would stop from February 1.

The closures come as Chinese policymakers grapple with how to boost young couples’ desire to have children as authorities face a growing demographic headache of a rapidly ageing society.

China’s population fell for a second consecutive year in 2023 as the record-low birth rate and high deaths due to COVID-19 accelerated a downturn that officials fear will have profound long-term effects on the economy’s growth potential.

The most recent available data from China’s National Health Commission showed the number of maternity hospitals dropped to 793 in 2021 from 807 in 2020.

Local media including Daily Economic News said the plummeting number of newborns meant that it was not possible for many hospitals to keep operating their obstetrics departments.

“‘The obstetric winter’ seems to be coming quietly,” the newspaper reported on Friday.

Many women in China are opting to remain childless due to high childcare costs, an unwillingness to marry or put their careers on hold in a traditional society where they are still seen as the main caregivers and where gender discrimination remains rife.

Authorities have tried to roll out incentives and measures to boost the birth rate, including expanding maternity leave, financial and tax benefits for having children and housing subsidies.

But China is one of the world’s most expensive places to bring up a child relative to its gross domestic product per capita, a prominent Chinese think tank said in February, as it detailed the time and opportunity cost for women who give birth.

More babies are being born in hospitals across China in the Year of the Dragon, which began on February 10, financial news outlet Yicai reported, with the dragon Chinese zodiac sign believed to be particularly auspicious. But demographers say any bump from a “dragon baby” boom is likely to be short-lived. –

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