Author Archive

DC infant mortality is at an historic low!

Laura Charles-Horne is the Director of Home Visiting and Healthy Start Project Director at Mary’s Center in Washington, DC.

At 8 deaths per thousand, the women, children, and families in the District are experiencing healthier outcomes from the very start and making strides in closing the gap to the national average at 6.1. This is great news for our community as we have struggled for years to make a real impact on improving the health of our most vulnerable members. The infant mortality rate is the best-known indicator of a community’s health status. The measure is used nationally and internationally to compare the health outcomes of jurisdictions and communities. This news is especially wonderful and timely as we close National Minority Health Month – having accomplished the greatest declines among minority populations with 28% decline for non-Hispanic black mothers and 53.8% decline for Hispanic mothers from last year.

Mohammad Akhter, director of the District’s Health Department, cited “long-term investments in support programs for vulnerable mothers and children” as the cause of the decline. Mary’s Center, founded twenty-four years ago with the mission of providing high-quality prenatal care for under-served populations, is pleased by this indication of the success of its comprehensive services. Our city-wide home visiting program, Healthy Start Healthy Families (HSHF), has provided home-based support to pregnant and new parenting families since 1995 to improve birth and childhood outcomes. HSHF demonstrates a combined effort of the national Healthy Families America home visiting model, a national movement to prevent child abuse and neglect, and the federal Healthy Start program, an initiative to reduce infant mortality. The mission of HSHF is to partner with families to ensure that children are healthy, safe, and ready for school through home visitation and linkages with community resources. These results are an example of our sustained work and commitment to our communities through primary care, education, and outreach. The work we do – access to services, linkages to resources, home visits, family support, outreach, parenting education, health education, case management, and much more…all helped to achieve these outcomes.  And for that, I am thankful!  While there is still more work to do, I am encouraged that we will continue to close the gap with sustained effort and strong partnerships so that every child gets to celebrate day 366!

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National Birth Defects Prevention Month

Coleen Boyle, PhD, MS Hyg, is the director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  NCBDDD’s mission is to promote the health of babies, children and adults and enhance the potential for full, productive living.

Each year, we at CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) join many organizations in recognizing January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Our state-based tracking system shows that birth defects affect one in 33 babies and are a leading cause of infant death in the United States.  More than 5,000 infants die each year because of birth defects. For me and my colleagues at NCBDDD, those numbers aren’t just numbers. They represent real babies and families and underscore our activities to promote the health of babies, children and adults and enhance the potential for full, productive living.

Every day, NCBDDD’s National Birth Defects Prevention Study teaches us about exposures or other factors during pregnancy that might raise or lower the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Through this important work, we’ve learned that women who take certain medications, are obese, have uncontrolled diabetes, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol during pregnancy increase their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect. We are turning this science into action, but we cannot do this alone.

This month and throughout the year, we invite you to draw attention to the ways we know a woman can increase her chance of having a healthy baby—before she becomes pregnant: take folic acid; have regular medical checkups; make sure medical conditions, such as diabetes, are under control; talk to a health care provider about medication use; have tests for infectious diseases and get necessary vaccinations; and do not use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.  It’s important to remember that many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant, so planning a pregnancy is key and can help make a difference.

Like many of you, we are working toward a day when every child is born with the best health possible. We encourage you to use our birth defects prevention resources to help us do that: www.cdc.gov/birthdefects.

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

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.

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