Infant mortality rate rises as funding falls

Published 7:04pm Monday, November 4, 2013

By Stephanie Carroll Carson

NC News Service

More of North Carolina’s babies are dying in their first year of life. According to data released from the state Department of Health and Human Services this month, the infant mortality rate has gone up by 6 percent in the past two years, which equals about 100 additional infants when compared with the declining state average in 2010. At the same time, state-funded investments in preventing infant deaths began decreasing starting in 2010.

According to Tom Vitaglione, a senior fellow at Action for Children North Carolina, maintaining a declining infant mortality rate takes work.

“The infant mortality rates are not happenstance,” he said. “They are a product of investments that are made or not made and the work of advocates in trying to make sure resources are in the right place.”

Among the preventive programs cut by the NC General Assembly, which were believed to reduce infant mortality, were infant safe-sleep education and programs for mothers such as smoking cessation, high-risk services at maternity clinics, and nutrition education.

In addition to an increase in overall infant mortality, African-American babies are 2.5 times more likely to die before their first birthdays, when compared with their peers.

Laila Bell, director of research and data for Action for Children North Carolina, said the disparity comes down to the infants’ mothers’ access to health care.

“Healthy infancy in childhood begins with healthy mothers,” Bell said. “So women’s health before, during and between pregnancies is a strong predictor of the survival and long-term health of their newborns.”

Bell added that, in addition to cuts to programs meant to specifically address infant mortality, the state’s decision to not expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act also is affecting the health of women and their unborn children. Bell held that preventive health care is key.

“So before a woman conceives, before a woman even thinks of becoming pregnant, she would be far more likely to be in good health, all of which could affect the outcomes of her newborn,” she said.

Bell said expanding Medicare would have provided health care to an additional 178,000 women in North Carolina, and added that it’s not too late for the State Assembly to introduce a bill that would accept the federal assistance.

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