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Infant deaths increases, Ohio puts $50M in budget to address issue

The number of Ohio infants who died before their first birthday ticked up from 1,005 in 2015 to 1,024 in 2016, according to new infant mortality data released by the Ohio Department of Health.

The report also said there were 22 percent fewer sleep-related infant deaths last year than in 2015, with the department highlighting intensive state and local initiatives to promote safe sleep practices.

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The infant mortality rate is trending down over the past 20 years, the state reports.

“While we have seen some progress in preventing sleep-related infant deaths, we still have a lot of work to do, particularly in the areas of premature births and racial disparities. That is why the state is investing millions of dollars in local initiatives that will help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays, particularly in high-risk communities and populations,” Ohio Department of Health Director Lance Himes said in a statement.

Prematurity-related conditions, such as preterm birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, are the leading cause of infant deaths in Ohio, the department stated.

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Although the number of prematurity-related infant deaths increased from 2015 to 2016, Ohio’s prematurity infant mortality rate – the number of preterm infant deaths per 1,000 live births – has not changed significantly in the past decade.

The department said it is working to address the causes of premature births such as smoking, and identifying and treating women at risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, conditions which increase the risk of having a preterm or low-birth-weight baby. One of the more successful interventions is the use of a hormone medication, progesterone, in at-risk women to help reduce the likelihood of preterm birth.

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The current state budget dedicates nearly $50 million to improving birth outcomes and reducing racial and ethnic disparities, with most of that funding to be sent to local health departments to be used for programming.

During the next two years, additional community-based pilot programs with track records in reducing infant mortality will be launched, and the evidence-based “CenteringPregnancy” group prenatal care model will be expanded.

Ohio’s goal is to reach the national objective of a 6 deaths per 1,000 live births for all races and ethnicities. Ohio’s overall infant mortality rate increased from 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015 to 7.4 in 2016. The white infant mortality rate increased from 5.5 to 5.8, and the black infant mortality rate increased from 15.1 to 15.2, with black babies dying at nearly three times the rate as white babies.

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