Public health officials call for focus on infant mortality

“Infant mortality goes beyond the babies. People often times use the infant mortality rate to really measure the health of the community,” said James Gross, Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County Health commissioner, said as part of a coalition announcement Thursday.

The focus of the coalition announcement was the infant mortality rate in the black community, which has the highest rate in the state, according to 2011 Ohio Department of Health’s Infant Mortality statistics, the latest statistics available.

“Infant mortality is really a tragedy here in that African-American women have twice the risk of Caucasian women of having a baby die within the first year of life,” said Dr. David McKenna, maternal-fetal specialist at Miami Valley Hospital, and member of the coalition. The coalition is made up of health officials in the public and private sector.

McKenna said preterm births, late prenatal care, and lack of access to care, are possible contributors to the high rate.

The rate of infant deaths for blacks in the county — 17.1 — is 2.9 times higher than for whites, whose rate is 6.0, according to Gross.

In Montgomery County, the black infant mortality rate in 2011 — 17.1 — surpassed the county’s total rate for that year — 8.8. The rate is based on deaths per 1,000 live births.

To prevent infant mortality in all races, the coalition is proposing the use of progesterone therapy.

The progesterone hormone helps the uterus grow and keeps it from contracting during early pregnancy, according to the health district. A contracting uterus during early pregnancy can lead to a miscarriage.

McKenna said giving a pregnant woman progesterone may help reduce the risk of having a premature baby. Babies who are born preterm — before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy — run the risk of having more health problems than babies born full-term.

“Pre-term births account for a large number of infant deaths. So, if we can prevent prematurity, we can prevent infant deaths,” McKenna said.

The coalition also is promoting the practice of Centering Pregnancy, a group prenatal care model that focuses on health assessment, education and support, said Jalana Lazar, a registered nurse with LifeStages Samaritan Centers for Women. The women are placed in a group with others who have similar due dates and participate in 10 sessions.

“Coalition members will be recruiting community partners to use both progesterone therapy and group prenatal care,” Gross said. The group will start in areas where the infant mortality rate is high, he said.

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