Posts Tagged ‘ infant health ’

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.

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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.

We wouldn’t accept 41st place in the Olympics

Mike Fraser is the CEO of the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs.

Infant mortality is one of the key indicators of a society’s health – and the US isn’t doing that great compared to our sister countries around the world. A recent WHO report found that the US ranks 41st in the world. 41st?  Aren’t we a country of #1s and gold medals?  Why do we accept 41st place among all nations on this critical measure of how well we care for women, children, and families? I think it is primarily because we haven’t made infant mortality as big of an issue as it really should be. Most Americans don’t know we rank 41st. Most Americans don’t know that compared to other countries, we have a long way to go in improving our rates. Would we accept 41st place in the Olympics? Heck no.  Why do we accept it for our children?

Raising infant mortality awareness is key to obtaining more support to address the problem. That is why September’s infant mortality awareness activities are so important. Raising the issue in policy circles is helpful, getting our friends and families talking to policy makers about this issue is even better. The more we can let our representatives know that we don’t want to be 41st anymore the more pressure they will feel to do something about it. There is a lot we can do to address infant mortality – we know what some of the major causes are, and we have a good toolkit of solutions, but resources to address this issue have been cut back, not increased. We also know that there is a great deal more states and their partners can do to help communities address this important problem. We all need to be part of the solution.  That’s why we are encouraging everyone to get active this month – and after – in raising awareness and bringing attention to this important MCH issue.

Saving Babies

Elizabeth Perry, Executive Assistant/Communications Associate for NHSA, on how she learned about infant mortality.

In D.C., the first question after you’re introduced to a new person is, “And what do you do?” The standard answer is the name of your company, what the company does and your role in the company….which results in a glazed looking head-bob from the questioner. Since I began at NHSA, I’ve had a simpler and more direct response, “I save babies.”

I didn’t set out in this job to save babies. That may sound funny, since I obviously knew where I was working, but it’s absolute truth. You see, I’m the only staff member WITHOUT a background in MCH. In fact, I couldn’t have told you what MCH stood for on my first day. (It’s Maternal and Child Health, for those stumbling blindly across this blog.) My background in women’s health focused on women, but I didn’t know much about infants and pregnancy. I learned, and I learned quickly.

I began reading about the work of Healthy Start, and the incredibly tragic need for more of the work. How could so many babies be dying before the age of one? While I’ve never experienced pregnancy, I’ve sympathized deeply with friends who have miscarried. I’ve seen the loss and the grieving they’ve done for a child they never held. As I read more about the infant mortality rates in this country and around the world, I couldn’t imagine the depth of loss experienced by those who’ve given birth and lost their child.

Working at NHSA has been my introduction into the tragedy that is the IMR in this country. I’ve learned about babies dying in alarming numbers, and I’ve learned that babies of color die much more often than white babies. I’ve been horrified by the statistics and moved by the stories I’ve heard from women and men who persevere in making their families healthier.

I’m not a case worker or nurse or family therapist; these skills are outside of my abilities. But I do have skills. We all do. I choose every day to use my skills to spread awareness about the epidemic that is infant mortality in this country and to advocate on behalf of those working in the field. I choose to spread the word about infant mortality, because if babies are dying, we should be doing something to stop it.

I urge you to use your skills or your voice to spread the message that infant mortality is real in this country; babies are dying, and we MUST do more to educate people. If you pass the message on, when someone asks what you do, you can say, “I save babies” too.

Let’s make sure more babies blow out their 1st candle

Phyllis George, NHSA Senior Program Manager, answers the question, “Why do you feel it is important to raise awareness around infant mortality?”

I learned early in life how devastating the effects of infant mortality can have on families. My parents are from Sierra Leone in west Africa, and many aunts and cousins growing up never got a chance to celebrate the 1st birthdays of their children. Over the years, the number of maternal and infant deaths has decreased, but Sierra Leone still has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Who would have thought that years later I would be working to help bring awareness to the issue in a nation where a woman does not have to walk for miles to receive prenatal care? It amazes me the wealth of resources that are available to people in the United States; yet we only rank 31st  in infant mortality rates among industrialized countries.

I believe that the main factor that contributes to the alarming infant mortality rates in the U.S. is lack of education and awareness about the issue. Other factors such as race and socio-economic status play a part, but many people, even those with a background in public health, are not aware of how to improve their chances of a successful pregnancy. I have yet to experience the privilege of being a mother, but if I wasn’t in the field of maternal and child health, would I know this information and ensure that my unborn child had the best start in life possible? Would I, after having my child, understand how to make sure that life flourishes beyond year one? I honestly do not know.

Health providers, community workers, churches, hair salons, friends, family members…these are the people that those who are most at risk of experiencing an infant death come in contact with on a regular basis. We all need to help in this fight and increase infant mortality awareness. Other countries should use us as an example and follow our lead on ensuring that the families in their communities are healthy. September is when we can begin to open up dialogue on this topic to families who do not know or congressmen who are not aware of the deplorable infant mortality rates in their cities, but let’s continue to spread the message throughout the year. Be the voice for the countless babies who did not live to blow out their first candle.

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!

Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week

World Breastfeeding week in celebrated every year from August 1 to 7. This year, more than 170 countries are celebrating this great event with the theme Talk to me! Breastfeeding – a 3D Experience which emphasizes the importance of communication. When we look at the breastfeeding support, not only should we see it in the two dimensions of time (from pre-pregnancy to weaning) and place (the home, community, health care system, etc), but also in the third dimension of communication at various levels and between various sectors. That is what “3D” means.

Breastfeeding is regarded as a good way to provide newborns with the nutrients they need and protect them from illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is six months old and continued breastfeeding with the addition of nutritious complementary foods for up to two years or beyond.

Although breastfeeding has been increasing in popularity in many countries in the Americas, much remains to be done to optimize breastfeeding practices. In most countries of the Americas, fewer than half of babies begin breastfeeding within the first hour of life. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is low, ranging from 8% to 64% of babies in different countries of Latin America.

To promote the advantage of breastfeeding, all of us can use our most powerful tool — COMMUNICATION — to tell others why breastfeeding matters. By enhancing the perception and knowledge about breastfeeding and bringing the dialogue to life, we can make this year’s World Breastfeeding Week celebration a true 3D experience: an opportunity for outreach, an investment in a healthy future, and ultimately, a unifying lens through which to see the world.

For more information, please visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org.

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