Archive for the ‘ Executive Director ’ Category

September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Barbara Lee Jackson is the Interim Executive Director at the National Healthy Start Association.

When I considered what I would write about in my blog today commemorating Infant Mortality Awareness Month, I thought I would start by clarifying my understanding of the word “awareness.”  I want to be sure I am expressing it correctly to inspire and demonstrate my own actions!

 Awareness is the “state or condition of being aware; having knowledge; consciousness”.  That’s a good start, but I’m going to focus on the word “aware” because that is really where we need to be. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary  (online), “aware” has Middle English origins, and expressed as iwar, or an older reference in Old English as gewær, from ge- (associative prefix) + wær wary — more at co-, wary.  Although an archaic form,  “wary” means being keenly “cautious, cunning, and watchful.”  That’s it! Being keenly “cunning” describes a person that is “knowledgeable or learned.”  So, if you are joining me in the Infant Mortality Awareness Campaign, my dear colleagues, are you “knowledgeable and learned” about infant mortality in the United States, what is it that you know and what can you do about it?  (Please note, I did not ask you if you WANT to be “knowledgeable or learned”; that’s another blog!)

 Well, here is a bit of information we should all know.  In a 2012 worldwide ranking by the CIA World Factbook — a report of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency — the U.S. infant mortality rate ranked 49th, ahead of Croatia at No. 50, while Monaco ranked No. 1, with an infant mortality rate of 1.80 per 1,000 live births. The United States infant mortality rate is 6.0 per 1000 live births, and if we are going to beat out Monaco and become No. 1, what is it that we need to do? 

First, we need to become aware and with many public health awareness campaigns, like breast cancer awareness for example, the information in the message is a deliberate effort to motivate individuals to take action. The kind of action we want you to take to address infant mortality in this country, involves understanding the issues, knowing what is going on in your community and/or state, and getting connected!  Joining other concerned individuals and/or organizations in partnership to find the solutions to the myriad of issues impacting pregnant women and their families that are at risk of having adverse birth outcomes is the kind of action needed to move the United States into the No. 1 spot!

Here are some ideas to take action!

  • Get connected and involved with a Healthy Start Project operating in your state!  If none exist in your area, check with your State Title V program, (Maternal and Child Health & Children with Special Health Care Needs) MCH/CSHCN.  It is the state agency funded by the federal government that support pregnant women, infants and children and ask them about the rates of infant morbidity and mortality in your state.  If the infant death rate is above1.8 per 1000 births in your community and/or state, ask the Title V officials what they are doing to work with pregnant women and their families to ensure healthy birth outcomes.
  • Take advantage of the resources provided by the National Healthy Start Association. We are ready to help!  Visit our website at www.nationalhealthystart.org and check out our Celebrate Day 366 Infant Mortality Awareness Campaign. You’ll find many resources on our  Raise Awareness page including an Infant Mortality Awareness Campaign Toolkit, Fact Sheet, web badge, and other promotional items.

Get in the know to take action in your community and/or state to impact our national standing, together we can make the United States No. 1!

We Fight, So Babies Don’t Have To!

Today is World Prematurity Day and our opportunity to focus everyone’s attention on the serious problem of premature birth. Join the National Healthy Start Association and its members in honoring the million babies worldwide who died this year because they were born too soon, and the 12 million more who struggle to survive.

We encourage you to wear purple today in honor of the babies that are born too soon and too small. Also, visit the World Prematurity page on Facebook and “LIKE IT. ” You  can read stories from around the world and share your own. Help spread the word by updating your Facebook status with a message on premature birth. Together we can raise awareness of this serious problem and help more babies start healthy lives. We fight to reduce prematurity because babies shouldn’t have to.

Remembering Maribeth Badura

On Monday, a year will have passed since we lost a champion for women and children, a trailblazer in the public health field and most importantly a dear friend. Maribeth Badura was often known as the “matriarch” of Healthy Start. Holding the position as the Director of the Division of Healthy Start under the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Maribeth was dedicated to her work of ensuring communities had resources and services that were easily accessible and affordable.

She was passionate about helping women be healthy throughout their lives. Most of all she was committed to ensuring babies reached not just their first birthday but all of their birthdays. Although Maribeth passed away last October, her memory continues to live on in each of us who had the fortunate experience to work alongside of her. It is largely because of her that we celebrate 20 years of the federal Healthy Start initiative this year. Through our work in communities across the United States, we strive to keep her legacy at the forefront of our minds and in our hearts.

We honor her today for everything she did on behalf of our most vulnerable women and children. NHSA encourages you to share your favorite Maribeth story or memory here on our blog.

You can also honor Maribeth’s memory by contributing to the Maribeth Badura Memorial Fund. This fund will enable the Association to grant scholarships to individuals interested in pursuing the field of nursing, public health or similar. Recipients will be selected from Healthy Start communities.

Checks can be made payable to: The Maribeth Badura Memorial Fund and mailed to the NHSA office at 1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1350, Washington, DC 20005. If you would like to make a contribution via credit card, please visit our website, click the DONATE button and indicate MB Fund.

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

Why is it important to raise awareness about infant mortality?

Today marks the first day of September, the first day that reminds us Fall is near, and the first day of a month where we pay special attention to an issue plaguing our so many communities in this country. Today we start our 30 days of awareness, but also 30 days of celebration for those babies who are turning 1 year old, 2 years old, 3 years old and on.

As we begin the month, I can’t help but recall a recent conversation I had with a young woman from a Louisiana newspaper. She was calling to confirm the black infant mortality rate for New Orleans because “it seems extremely high,” she says. I informed her that while I didn’t have the statistic directly in front of me, that it sounded pretty accurate. She also said her editor asked her to confirm the statistics because he said “if they are really that high, then we have an epidemic on our hands.”   I wanted to scream “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?? OF COURSE WE HAVE AN EPIDEMIC!” I was in awe and frightened that people who I thought should know, have no idea that babies are dying at such alarming rates in their very own backyard. I shook my head in disbelief, as I thought about all of the work we have all done to educate and inform communities about infant mortality. I realized we still have a lot of educating to do.

We not only have to educate our soon-to-be mothers and fathers, families, health professionals, non-profit and community based organizations but also that person you are sitting next to on the train or standing behind in line at the grocery store. We must inform everyone we come in contact with to make sure they truly understand how this issue also affects them. Many people are not aware that the infant mortality rate often serves as an indicator of a nation’s health. If our rate is ranked 31st among other industrialized countries, what does that say about the health of the United States? What does that say about the health of our population? To me, it says that we need to get to work on helping people better understand how everything impacts their health and the health of their children. What they eat, where they live, the life experiences they have and the resources and services they have access to, all ultimately have an impact on their health. It is important that we raise awareness about infant mortality to the corporations who sell packaged food, the developers who build homes, the mental health professionals who treat stressed people and so many others who we may not otherwise think have an impact on our health, but do. We have some hard work ahead of us this month, but knowing we will save the life of a baby, makes it all worth it.

Throughout the entire month, NHSA will use this blog to hear from many of our community and national leaders in the maternal and child health field, asking them the question “Why do you feel it is important to raise awareness around infant mortality?” I know I will enjoy reading their responses and hope you will follow the blog this month to hear what they have to say. We encourage you to join NHSA this September in our efforts to increase awareness and spread the word about infant mortality. We also encourage you to spread the word about infant mortality in your community. We have great tools on our website to help you learn more about the issue. We believe that collectively, we can help save the lives of millions of babies in this country. Help us make sure every baby reaches their first birthday, their second birthday, the fifteenth birthday and their thirtieth birthday!

NHSA Kicks off National Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Yesterday marked the first day of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month in the U.S. To commemorate the month, the National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) has launched its campaign, Celebrate Day 366…Every Baby Deserves a Chance to promote national awareness around this very critical issue.

Infant mortality refers to the number of infant deaths before the age of one and Celebrate Day 366 is a campaign to increase the public’s awareness about the issue. The campaign is an example of NHSA’s commitment to increasing the number of babies who will live beyond their first birthday. The organization is dedicated to ensuring that the nation’s most vulnerable women and families are receiving high quality services and resources for healthy pregnancies and healthy births. Infant Mortality Awareness Month is a key time to also raise public awareness about the one million babies who die each year because they are born prematurely.

Toward the end of the month, NHSA will host a briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss priorities for action in the public and private sectors that address reducing infant mortality rates and strategies to ensure that every baby has a healthy start. NHSA will inform policymakers, staffers, and the general public about the pressing need for community-based programs to reduce infant mortality, low birth-weight, and racial disparities in perinatal outcomes. Invited to provide remarks at the Congressional Briefing are U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN); Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, Garth Graham, M.D.; Executive Director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, Judy Meehan; and President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, Roland Warren.

Throughout September, we will use the blog to share information, resources, and activities related to infant mortality and prematurity.You’ll also see a calendar of activities on the NHSA Celebrate Day 366 web page, as well as campaign resources and an updated Toolkit.

Join NHSA this month in its efforts to increase awareness and spread the word about infant mortality. Collectively, we can help save the lives of millions of babies in this country. Help us make sure every baby reaches their first birthday!

U.S. Surgeon General Promotes Breastfeeding!

This week, I spent two days at the Second Annual Summit on Breastfeeding hosted by the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Summit was here in Washington, DC, and the theme was,  First Food: The Essential Role of Breastfeeding. The meeting was packed with information and presentations focusing on a range of topics that included leadership and legislation from federal agencies, breastfeeding community initiatives and community-based approaches, involvement of companies, roles and responsibilities of health professionals,  and regulation.  I learned a great deal over these last two days on breastfeeding and where we are in this country with initiation, as well as duration rates in the communities we serve.  However, what sticks with me the most, are the remarks at yesterday’s luncheon, from the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. I feel compelled to share some of the points that Dr. Benjamin shared with the group, as she talked about the importance of breastfeeding and how we can work together to improve rates in the U.S.

  • Breastfeeding is a top priority in the Surgeon General’s office and it will continue to be a measure within Healthy People 2020.
  • Despite improvements, socioeconomic, racial and geographic disparities still exist.
  • Women in the southeastern part of the U.S. have breastfeeding numbers that are lower than any other part of the country. This is also the case for the rural communities in the U.S. compared to urban communities.
  • Black infants are breastfed 50% less than white infants. “We really need to figure out ways to improve this rate.”
  • We need to teach moms, grandmoms and dads about breastfeeding to increase the support among women.
  • There needs to be safe and private areas in the workplace for women to breastfeed and/or pump, as well as cooling areas to store the breastmilk.
  • Ongoing research and data — the science — is needed to validate what we are all saying about breastfeeding.
  • “I want to move us (U.S.) to a system of wellness and prevention, and breastfeeding is included in this.”

These are all things we should keep in mind as we work to improve the health and well being of children. I also had the pleasure of speaking with the Surgeon General about how the NHSA and Healthy Start programs can work with her office to enhance breastfeeding education and increase breastfeeding rates among African-American infants and rural communities. It is our plan to continue this conversation with Dr. Benjamin’s office in the very near future.

Happy Friday and continue to give children a healthy start!

~Stacey D. Cunningham, MSW, MPH, Executive Director, National Healthy Start Association