Mamas on Bedrest: September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month!

September 8th, 2015
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Photo by Racha Tahani Lawler, Los Angeles, CA

Mamas,

Did you know that September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month?

Globally, The United States spends more on healthcare than any other country. Yet, it has worse birth outcomes than many other countries globally. Despite recent declines in infant mortality, the United States ranked 26th among the 29 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2010, behind most European countries as well as Japan, Korea, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand (1). The U.S. infant mortality rate of 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births was more than twice that for Japan and Finland (both 2.3), the countries with the lowest rates. Twenty-one of the 26 OECD countries studied had infant mortality rates below 5.0.

Overall in the United States, white infants die at a rate of 5-6/1000 births and Hispanic infants have a similar infant mortality rate. African American Infants die at a rate of approximately 11.4/1000 births. I’m here in Texas and our infant mortality rate for white and hispanic infants is 5.5/1000 births while it is 11.4/1000 for African American Infants. In Travis County (the Greater Austin Area where I live), African American Infants have an infant mortality rate of 11.5/1000 births, whereas white infants have an infant mortality rate of 3.7/1000 births and Hispanic infants 6/1000 births.(2) What is the cause of this disparity?

Researchers and public health officials have numerous speculations as to why the IMR for African American infants is so poor,

  • Delayed initiation of prenatal care among African American women
  • Lack of access to quality prenatal care
  • Lack of insurance
  • Poverty
  • Preterm labor/Prematurity
  • Low birth weight
  • Birth Defect
  • SIDS
  • Maternal health complications

However Dr. Michael Lu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences and the Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities at UCLA School of Public Health has proposed other reasons for the birth outcome disparities. In his groundbreaking  research paper “Closing the Black-White Gap in Birth Outcomes: A Life-Course Approach (3) Dr Lu and his colleagues point to systemic racism in American culture as the underlying cause of the birth outcome disparities. Lu and his colleagues point out that racism passed down through generations, as well as repeated racial slights in the daily lives of African American women has created an allostatic load of stress on African American women that is affecting their overall health, but in particular, their reproductive health and causing the negative birth outcomes we see in African American women and infants. To address these social determinants of health, Lu and his colleagues propose a 12 point Life-Course approach to closing the racial gap in birth outcomes.

  1. Provide Inter-conception care for women with prior adverse pregnancy outcomes
  2. Increase access to preconception care for African American women
  3. Improve the quality of prenatal care for African American women
  4. Expand healthcare access over the life course for African American women
  5. Strengthen father involvement in African American families
  6. Enhance systems coordination and integration for family support services
  7. Create reproductive social capital in African American communities
  8. Invest in community building and urban renewal
  9. Close the education gap
  10. Reduce poverty among African American families
  11. Support working mothers and families
  12. Undo Racism

Lu and his colleagues have presented an approach that not only address issues surrounding pregnancy and childbearing, but also addresses the social issues affecting African American families and communities. Lu makes some very bold statements, ones that some people may be loathe to accept and even less likely to act upon. But as Lu says in his publication,

“We will not close the Black-White gap in birth outcomes without political will to do so. Political will is the ability to command resources to make things happen (i.e. implement the 12 points).”

As the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way!” The question now becomes do we the American people have the will, the actual desire to close this gap?

 

References

MacDorman MF, Mathews TJ, Mohangoo AD, Zeitlin J. International comparisons of infant mortality and related factors: United States and Europe, 2010. National vital statistics reports; vol 63 no 5. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2014.

Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department. Infant Mortality Rate Causes of Death for Travis County, 2000-2011. Data Source, Center for Health Statistics, Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 2011-2012

Lu, M.C., MD, MPH, Kotelchuck, M., PhD, MPH, Hogan, V., DrPH, Jones, L., MA, Wright, K., PhD, MPH, Halfon, N., MD, MPH. “Closing The Black-White Gap in Birth Outcomes: A Life-Course Approach” Ethnicity and Disease, Volume 20, Winter 2010.

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