INFANT MORTALITY; Time for Action

The Florida Times Union, May 30, 2008 | Go to article overview

INFANT MORTALITY; Time for Action


"The failure of our community to successfully address the longstanding issues of racism, poverty and socio-economic disparities is killing our babies."

That powerful statement begins the conclusion portion of a report from the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. on Duval County's high rate of infant mortality -- the death before age 1 of infants.

JCCI must be commended for taking up an issue that has not had many champions among elected leaders until recently. It is complicated, not prone to easy answers.

"The Jacksonville community is largely uninformed about the magnitude, causes and consequences of the high infant mortality rate," the report stated.

But the importance of saving lives justifies our attention.

For too long, this community did not pay sufficient attention to the county's high rates of murder, suicide and infant mortality.

Like Duval County's state-leading murder rate, Duval also leads most other metro Florida counties in infant mortality rate. Part of the reason is Duval's high proportion of African-American residents and the fact that black women are prone to higher rates of infant mortality.

MAJOR TIME COMMITMENT

The JCCI study, led by Howard Korman, included 17 informational meetings, two field trips, small group meetings in neighborhoods with high infant mortality rates and extensive interviews with nationwide experts.

The result is an impressive document that clearly describes the issue and offers solutions.

What we have learned is that this is not primarily a health issue. Medical care contributes to only 10 percent to 15 percent of pregnancy outcomes.

Root causes are the major issue, such as racism, poverty, poor housing, crime, education, access to medical care, drug abuse and joblessness, the group reported.

Racism? If a pregnant women is under stress, it has an impact on the birth. And studies reported by UCLA have shown that when all other factors are equal, black women have higher rates of infant mortality.

For instance, in a study of 500 pregnant active-duty women in the military, the preterm delivery rate -- the largest immediate cause of infant mortality -- was twice as high for black women as white women. Most factors were constant.

In fact, high-income black women have higher rates of infant mortality than low-income white women. …

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