Archive for September, 2011

We Did What We Set Out To Do

As the month closes, I am proud to say that we accomplished our goal — to increase awareness around infant mortality. We tried new communication vehicles like Twitter to get the word out, we spotlighted guest bloggers to tell us how they felt about the issue, and we created new materials to help others spread the message. Our commitment this year was to do more than what we did last year and the year before to educate the public about an issue that effects each and every one of us. Someone said yesterday that it doesn’t matter if you have children or not, infant mortality has an impact on all of us. It is very true. You may have a friend, family member, or colleague who has experienced the loss of their baby. You share in their pain, you grieve for their loss. In the end, it has affected you. I know I said it at the beginning of the month, but I will say it again – the health of a nation is often determined by their infant mortality rate. When babies die, our communities suffer, as does the country. When babies die, the mental health and well-being of a family can be severely impacted. When babies die, we lose the potential for greatness in a child who could be the next mathematician, doctor, community organizer or engineer. That is why the work we all did this month must not stop here.

Yes, September will be gone tomorrow, but infant mortality awareness is a year-round issue. I urge you to continue your efforts over the next 11 months and be even more vigilant in your fight to reduce infant deaths. When the next “awareness” month rolls around, National Infant Mortality Awareness Month will be a thing of the past until 2012. But we know how critically important it is that we keep this as an issue of today and every day. Our commitment to families must remain steadfast 365 days a year so that EVERY baby gets to reach day 366!

~Stacey Cunningham, Executive Director, NHSA

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Senate Passes NIMAM Resolution

On Friday, September 23, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution highlighting September as National Infant Mortality Awareness Month.  Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland was the lead sponsor of the resolution and Senator Burr of North Carolina and Senator Menendez of New Jersey served as cosponsors of the resolution.

Beginning in 2007, the National Healthy Start Association has asked a Member of Congress to introduce the resolution each September as a way to educate the public and Congressional leaders about infant mortality. The resolution expresses support for the goals of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month and calls upon the people of the United States to observe the month with appropriate programs and activities.

A copy of the resolution can be found here: http://1.usa.gov/oMDlrV.

Jon Terry is the President of Capitol Youth Strategies and the NHSA Government Relations Consultant.

A letter from Krystal Allen, a mom

Hi, my name is Krystal Allen, and I am apart of the Delta Health Partners program for teen moms. I’m writing to tell you about my experience with Delta Health Partners, and how it has been a blessing and an inspiration in my life.

At the age of 16, I gave birth to my first child, which was a boy and his name was Timotheus Justus Allen. He weighed 6 lbs and 5oz. at birth. He was truly a bundle of joy and the love of my life. When he was 4 months old, Timotheus left me and went to heaven. He died from the flu, and at that time I didn’t understand why he had to go and how to let go. I was young and I had never experienced anything like that before.

I was going through an emotional roller coaster in my life, nothing made sense anymore, especially the death of my beautiful baby boy.  Then I met Mrs. Janice Ford, a social worker who came by my house to talk with me about my feelings and how to start to making sense of things again. She told me about the program, Delta Health Partners and how they work with pregnant teen moms. I decided to join the program, and ever since that day she has been with me every step of the way. Because of her help and guidance, I am able today to share my story and try to help someone else. Mrs. Ford was there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, when I felt like giving up, she always encouraged me and she believes in me. She continually tells me to keep my head up, I’m going to make it. Without this program I would have given up a long time ago, and I wouldn’t be the wonderful mother that I am today. I am the proud parent of two handsome sons and three beautiful daughters. Mrs. Ford helped guide me through each pregnancy and assured me that things would be okay. She taught me what to expect with each pregnancy and how to be a better mom. I thank her and the program for all they have done for me. Whatever my family needed, they have always been right there.

In conclusion, this program has helped me out a lot. This is a wonderful program for teen moms, and I thank them so much for being there for me and my family.

Tougaloo College/Delta Health Partners’ (TC/DHP) is a federally funded Healthy Start project, and their goal is to improve prenatal health outcomes for the teens and women, and their infants, living in the Mississippi Delta. By strengthening the prenatal health delivery system and establishing a new model of integrated prenatal health care services, we can ameliorate the existing disparate outcomes associated with infant mortality, low-birth weight, and pre-term births. TC/DHP utilizes a case management team model, consisting of a registered nurse, social worker, and nutritionist.

Infant Mortality and Inequality

Larry Adelman is co-director of California Newsreel  and the creator and executive producer of Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? and RACE-The Power of an Illusion.  “When the Bough Breaks”, the episode from Unnatural Causes exploring African American infant mortality, can be screened on-line for free during the month at www.newsreel.org.

I still remember when first researching our documentary series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?  being steered to the work of two neonatologists from Chicago, Drs. James Collins and Richard David.

It’s well-known that African Americans have infant mortality rates more than twice as high as white Americans.  Collins and David wanted to know why.  According to the CDC, complications due to low-birth weight are the leading cause of African American infant deaths. In one study, Collins and David compared the birth weights of newborns of three different groups:  white Americans, African Americans and African immigrants born in the U.S.

They discovered that while African American babies are born, on average, about half a pound smaller than white Americans, babies born here to African immigrants are about the same weight as white American babies.

In a subsequent study, Collins and David found that just one generation later, the daughters of those very same African immigrants were giving birth to lower birth-weight babies.

What changed in a generation? Not genes; genes don’t change in a generation. But kids born to African immigrants grow up here as African Americans, their bodies subject for decades to the cumulative stressors of racism experienced by other African Americans (many studies show that large racial gaps in birth outcomes remain even after controlling for pre-natal care, education, nutrition and other factors).

Our earlier documentary series, RACE – The Power of an Illusion , tried to help viewers negotiate a two-step:  the idea of ‘race’ as innate biological difference between population groups makes little scientific sense, yet race as lived experience is very real – and can even have biological consequences.

And among the most enraging as well as heart-rending of those consequences is high infant mortality.  Why enraging?  Because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Nancy Krieger and colleagues found that in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty both racial and class infant mortality gaps narrowed between 1966 and 1980. But progress ceased as the Reagan presidency initiated a 30-year binge of rollbacks of social programs, tax cuts for the rich and corporate deregulation which helped spawn unprecedented growth in inequality.

Health tracks wealth as well as race. On average, the wealthier you are, the healthier. And our growing inequality is taking a toll on white American babies as well.  I just took a look at the infant mortality tables at CIA’s World Fact Book. By my calculation, if white Americans were a separate nation, their infant mortality rate of 5.6 / 1000 would rank them about 33rd in the world (even lower if small entities like Guernsey and Andorra are included).

There are many exciting initiatives tackling infant mortality one city, one county at a time. They are each important. But if we want to make a lasting difference, if we want to give all our children the opportunity for a healthy start, shouldn’t we also be reversing those policies which have increasingly channeled the nation’s wealth, power and resources into the hands of what FDR used to call the plutocrats and the financial elite?

What is the test of a good and strong society?

Jon Terry is the NHSA Government Relations Consultant and President of Capitol Youth Strategies LLC.

“I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable, the most frail and the poorest.  That’s true in good times, but it’s even more true in difficult times.”

This quote from David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK, immediately came to mind when I was asked why it is important to raise awareness about infant mortality.  Regardless of the economic climate or the state of the current fiscal mess in Washington, D.C., we have a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable in our society.  At the top of the ‘most vulnerable list’ are disadvantaged mothers and babies who need basic health services and access to prevention programs.

The bad news is that the United States ranks a dismal 41st when compared to other industrialized nations’ infant mortality rate.  In the United States, African American infants are 2.4 times as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday.  These deaths are especially tragic because they are so preventable.

The good news is that we know what works at preventing infant mortality and making sure babies live to see their first birthday. Services such as outreach, home visitation, case management, health education, perinatal depression screening, interconceptional care and other approaches are all effective at improving birth outcomes. These types of community-based services will not only save lives, but also save billions of dollars in health care costs.

Caring for disadvantaged mothers and babies is certainly a test of whether our society is good and strong.  It’s a test that we can’t afford to fail.

Infant Mortality: A Call-to-Action for Partnership

Judy Meehan is the CEO for the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition.

Health observances present an opportunity to draw attention to a cause.  Sadly, in the case of infant mortality, an annual observance also becomes an annual reminder of  statistics that seem insurmountable.  We know a lot about what can help mom have a safe and healthy pregnancy, and what helps babies get the healthiest possible start in life. Yet, we still need answers to critical research questions to guide our efforts as advocates, educators and care providers. As we wait for science that can lead us to the missing pieces of the infant mortality puzzle, we are also challenged by tough questions we ourselves can answer.

Why ARE we having difficulty moving the dial on infant mortality statistics?

Are we…

  • Engaging communities at risk (parents, providers and partners) in the development of health messages and promotional strategies?
  • Translating the science in a way that is actionable?
  • Maximizing proven strategies to communicate?
  • Making tools accessible to those who need them the most?
  • Delivering information in a format that is it culturally appropriate and accommodating of those with limited literacy skills?
  • Making it easy to enroll in critical programs that are under-utilized?
  • Leveraging the power of partnerships?

Until research reveals more about the causes and prevention of infant mortality, the last question on this list may be the most crucial to making a difference. Many at the local, state and national levels have taken a hard look at these questions and have answered them with quality programs.  We need to share success stories, learn from each other and make collaboration the new standard.  Our field represents an amazing army committed to a nation of healthier moms, babies and families.  As we wait for research and answers, there is no question that we will get farther by working together.

Infants Can’t Advocate

Dana Baker Kaplin, First Candle, answers the question, “Why is it important to raise awareness about infant mortality?”

Infants and children are unique members of our society in many ways. The most significant distinction, in my view, is that they make up the only segment of our population that is completely unable to advocate for themselves.

On the other hand, many adults face considerable challenges such as loss of a job, divorce, or managing a chronic illness during their lifetime. In these instances, they must take action or advocate for themselves to make change occur.  Those with the capacity to advocate for themselves or on behalf of a particular cause are capable of improving or overcoming challenges. Infants do not have this capacity.

I believe that it is not only important that we raise awareness about infant mortality–it is our responsibility as conscientious and caring members of society.  How do we do this? By educating parents and providers, conducting research that may improve birth outcomes, informing legislators about the significance of infant mortality and the need for funding, involvement in public health education or in other ways.

Having worked in the maternal and child health field for many years, I know at times “addressing infant mortality” can be overwhelming because of such high infant mortality rates and the vast racial disparities that exist.  However, this September, in honor of Infant Mortality Awareness Month it is crucial that we all commit to some action that will raise awareness about the urgent need at address infant mortality in our own communities and beyond.