State’s in­fant death stats show trou­bling trend

Black ba­bies are dy­ing at three times the rate of whites.

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Catherine Can­disky

Ohio recorded a small de­crease in the number of in­fants who died be­fore their first birthday, fall­ing to 982 in 2017 from 1,024 the pre­vi­ous year.

But, there is a trou­bling trend: While deaths of white in­fants dropped by 60 last year, deaths among black in­fants rose by 15, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Thurs­day by the Ohio Depart­ment of Health.

Over­all, black in­fants were dy­ing at nearly three times the rate of white in­fants.

The ra­cial gap con­tin­ues to grow as Ohio spends mil­lions to save young lives, in­vest­ments now di­rected pri­mar­ily to high-risk com­mu­ni­ties and mi­nori­ties.

“The data show we are help­ing more ba­bies in the state reach their first birthdays, but we still have a lot of work to do — par­tic­u­larly in elim­i­nat­ing ra­cial dis­par­i­ties in birth out­comes,” said state Health Di­rec­tor Lance Himes.

In­fant mor­tal­ity is de­fined as the death of a live-born baby be­fore his or her first birthday. Last year, the state av­er­aged 7.2 in­fant deaths for every 100,000 births, down from 7.4 in 2016.

The rate for white ba­bies was 5.3 per 100,000 births and 15.6 for blacks.

Ohio’s goal is 6.0 in­fant deaths per 1,000 live births for all ra­cial and eth­nic groups.

Nine ur­ban coun­ties, in­clud­ing Franklin, ac­counted for nearly twothirds of all in­fant deaths last year and 90 per­cent of black in­fant deaths. In Franklin County, black in­fant deaths ac­tu­ally fell to 83 in 2017, down from 89 in 2016, while white in­fant deaths were un­changed at 62.

Sandy Oxley, who heads the health depart­ment’s Bureau of Ma­ter­nal, Child and Fam­ily Health, said the statewide in­crease in black in­fant deaths was at­trib­uted to a larger number of neona­tal deaths, or those oc­cur­ring in the first 27 days of life.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, black in­fant death dur­ing the neona­tal pe­riod in­creased by 9 per­cent in 2017 from the pre­vi­ous year, while those dur­ing the post-neona­tal pe­riod of 28 to 365 days of life de­creased by 7 per­cent.

Neona­tal deaths, Oxley said, are of­ten caused by pre­ma­ture births, low birth weight and se­ri­ous health is­sues. A mother’s health prior to preg­nancy con­tin­ues to be the lead­ing in­di­ca­tor of “birth out­comes.”

In an ef­fort to reach those moth­ers, lo­cal groups in the nine coun­ties be­gan this fall us­ing “neigh­bor­hood nav­i­ga­tors” to iden­tify at-risk women and con­nect them with health care, hous­ing as­sis­tance and other ser­vices. Com­mu­nity ef­forts are funded with lo­cal, state fed­eral dol­lars.

“It’s re­ally all boots on the ground,” Oxley said.

Erika Clark Jones, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cel­e­brateOne, a lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to re­duce in­fant mor­tal­ity, said, “In Colum­bus, the in­fant mor­tal­ity rate for the county and for non-His­panic black ba­bies are both trend­ing down, but the dis­par­ity be­tween non-His­panic white and black ba­bies re­mains large, with a rate ap­prox­i­mately 2.5 times higher for non-His­panic black ba­bies.”

Still, Jones said, there are en­cour­ag­ing signs. The number of sleep-re­lated deaths is de­clin­ing. In 2017 Franklin County had the low­est number of sleep-re­lated deaths in 10 years. Franklin County won’t beat that record in 2018, but the over­all trend con­tin­ues to be down­ward, she said.

And, more fam­i­lies are get­ting help. In the three years Cel­e­brateOne has op­er­ated, it has trained 87 cer­ti­fied com­mu­nity health work­ers who have worked with over 25,000 preg­nant women, moms, and fam­i­lies to con­nect them to re­sources.

“Go­ing for­ward, in Franklin County and Colum­bus we will con­tinue to fo­cus on safe sleep ed­u­ca­tion and early ac­cess to pre­na­tal care,” Jones said.

Ohio has in­vested $137 mil­lion in the past eight years to com­bat the prob­lem.

The 982 over­all in­fant deaths last year marked the sec­ond time that Ohio had fewer than 1,000 in­fant deaths in a year since the state be­gan record­ing in­fant mor­tal­ity in 1939. The first time was in 2014 when 955 ba­bies died.

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