High county infant death rates remain worrisome for health officials

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High county infant death rates remain worrisome for health officials

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GREG LYNCH / STAFF

The number of infants who die before their first birthday in Montgomery County remains alarmingly high, particularly for black babies, local health officials said.

About 14 out of 1,000 black babies born in the county died compared to 4.5 deaths per 1,000 white babies born, according to the Ohio Department of Health using 2014 to 2015 data, which is the latest available.

“The disparities between the white and black infant death rates are a grave concern,” said Cheryl Scroggins, coordinator of Dayton Council on Health Equity, which is the local Office of Minority Health.

Officials with Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County continue to push for solutions to the high infant mortality rate and the disparities within the rate, including a conference in Dayton Friday and Saturday called “EveryOne should Turn One” that will highlight initiatives to reduce infant mortality.

The conference at the Dayton Convention Center, geared toward both professionals and residents, will both teach attendees about local initiatives from prenatal outreach and doula support, as well as promote policy that can address the causes of poor maternal health outcomes and racial health disparities.

Some of the talks are “Grassroots Initiatives to Address Infant Mortality” by West Dayton Health Promotion Partnership, “Implicit Bias & Racism in Health Care,” by the Kirwan Institute, and “Impact of Responsible Fatherhood on Infant Mortality” presented by multiple community groups.

The three times higher rate of black infant deaths has remained high for years. In 2011, the black infant mortality rate was 17.1 deaths per 1,000 births compared to 6 deaths per 1,000 births for white babies.

Ohio overall has a rate of 5.5 deaths per live births for white babies and 15.1 deaths per births for black babies.

The main cause of infant mortality in Montgomery County is prematurity and low birth weight, said Maleka James, supervisor of birth outcomes at Public Health.

Scroggins said there are differences in root causes based on race. White babies have deaths often caused by genetic malformations, or connected to sleep related deaths, or connected to smoking by the mothers as a risk factor.

For black mothers and black babies, infant deaths are commonly connected to mothers not having good health when they conceive and having maternal complications. The mothers are also more likely to have less of a support system and more likely to be impacted by prolonged stress.

Dr. Sara Paton, epidemiologist with Wright State University, said prolonged stress has a weathering affect that causes all kinds of health problems. It can contribute to infections and can be connected to high levels of hormones that can trigger premature birth.

There are effective initiatives like safe sleep and tobacco cessation that the department can promote to reduce infant mortality, but it will take more work and more organizations coming together to address the racial disparity that’s held steady for almost 30 years of data reporting.

“In order to actually address the disparity and close the gap which makes our rate higher than it needs to be in any case, we have to look at what’s affecting our black moms so we can improve the infant mortality for black infants as well,” she said.

“We need to address the different types of risk and we need to work on providing support to our African American moms.”

Public Health is offering approved continuing nursing education credits for the event. The RTA is offering free rides to the conference and interested riders can call 224-3696 for more information.

Montgomery County infant mortality rate by race per 1,000 births

White 4.5

Black 14

All races 7.5

Source: Ohio Department of Health, 2015

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