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!

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 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

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.