State fares poorly again in in­fant, ma­ter­nal health

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By ANDY MILLER

Ge­or­gia still ranks low among states in rates of pre­ma­ture births, low-birth­weight ba­bies, and in­fant mor­tal­ity.

The rank­ings in those cat­e­gories are 43rd, 47th and 45th, re­spec­tively, based on the lat­est data, ac­cord­ing to the Healthy Moth­ers, Healthy Ba­bies Coali­tion of Ge­or­gia’s 2016 report on ma­ter­nal and in­fant health.

The re­cently re­leased report also notes that the state suf­fers from an ab­sence of key in­for­ma­tion. A fed­eral pub­li­ca­tion of 2013 birth data iden­ti­fies Ge­or­gia as hav­ing the high­est rate of miss­ing pre­na­tal care data from its birth cer­tifi­cates, with about 16 per­cent not hav­ing that mea­sure.

“Other states are col­lect­ing some of this data bet­ter,’’ said Elise Blasingame, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Healthy Moth­ers, Healthy Ba­bies Coali­tion of Ge­or­gia, a non­profit that works to im­prove the health of women and ba­bies. “We have the high­est rate of miss­ing pre­na­tal care data in the na­tion and do not report on peri­na­tal mood and anx­i­ety dis­or­ders be­yond post­par­tum de­pres­sion.”

Pre­na­tal care is vi­tal for in­fant health. Ba­bies born to moth­ers who re­ceived no pre­na­tal care are three times more likely to be born at low birth­weight, and five times more likely to die, than those whose moth­ers re­ceived pre­na­tal care, the report said.

The report points to an in­ter­est­ing de­cline in Ge­or­gia’s in­fant mor­tal­ity num­bers that oc­curred in 2010. The au­thor, Mer­rilee Gober, notes there was a sig­nif­i­cant rise that year in preg­nant women getting flu shots, amid the na­tional H1N1 scare. Ge­or­gia’s fe­tal mor­tal­ity rate also had a drop in 2010.

The lat­est CDC sur­vey data show 50.5 per­cent of preg­nant women in the na­tion are getting the vac­cine, but in Ge­or­gia, just 17 per­cent now are getting it, said Gober. “Thus, na­tion­ally it ap­pears that other states have main­tained their higher rates of im­mu­niza­tion after the H1N1 scare — but not Ge­or­gia,’’ she said Tuesday.

The state also has a prob­lem with ac­cess to care, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas, the report said.

Longer dis­tances to birthing hos­pi­tals can in­crease chances for preterm birth. But only 46 of Ge­or­gia’s 159 coun­ties have la­bor and de­liv­ery units, with about 75 hos­pi­tals de­liv­er­ing, the report said. Many hospi- tals, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas, have shut­tered th­ese units in the past two decades due to fi­nan­cial losses.

And only half of Ge­or­gia coun­ties have an ob/gyn.

Ge­or­gia has an above av­er­age rate of ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity as well, Gober said. Ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity is de­fined as the death of a woman while she is preg­nant or within one year after the end of her preg­nancy, from any cause related to or ag­gra­vated by the preg­nancy or its man­age­ment.

The ini­ti­a­tion of breast­feed­ing of new­borns has im­proved in Ge­or­gia, the report pointed out, with 73 per­cent of new moms start­ing out with the prac­tice.

Breast­feed­ing is one of the most ef­fec­tive pre­ven­tive health mea­sures for in­fants and moth­ers. For the baby, breast­feed­ing re­duces the in­ci­dence and sever­ity of many in­fec­tious dis­eases, low­ers in­fant mor­tal­ity and sup­ports healthy devel­op­ment of the brain and ner­vous sys­tem. It also low­ers in­fants’ risk of be­com­ing obese later in child­hood.

For moth­ers, breast­feed­ing re­duces the risks of breast cancer, ovar­ian cancer, di­a­betes, rheuma­toid arthri­tis and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

But the Ge­or­gia breast­feed­ing rate drops off sig­nif­i­cantly three months after birth.

Healthy Moth­ers, Healthy Ba­bies, though, pointed out that the Leg­is­la­ture passed a bill that will im­prove ac­cess to clin­i­cal lac­ta­tion care for Ge­or­gia’s moth­ers and ba­bies.

Among the report’s rec­om­men­da­tions are bet­ter track­ing of pre­na­tal sta­tis­tics; rais­ing re­im­burse­ment rates for doc­tors and den­tists who serve Med­i­caid pa­tients; start­ing a push to in­crease flu shots among preg­nant women; in­creas­ing the to­bacco tax; and cre­at­ing an ini­tia­tive to ad­dress Ge­or­gia’s high un­in­tended preg­nancy rate, now at 60 per­cent.

Nancy Ny­dam, a spokes­woman for the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health, said the report “presents a clear pic­ture and un­der­stand­ing of the health of women and in­fants in our state and pro­vides strate­gies to breast­feed ad­dress chal­lenges and pro­mote suc­cess­ful pro­grams through Pub­lic Health, the health care com­mu­nity, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the com­mu­nity at large.

“Continued progress will re­quire pub­lic- pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tions to im­ple­ment the strate­gies and mon­i­tor data out­comes. After all, the health of our com­mu­ni­ties be­gins with healthy women and in­fants.”

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