Systemic Racism Is Driving Up Black Infant Mortality Rates, Experts Say

A medical conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio this past week is examining racism as a driver of increased infant mortality rates among African-Americans compared to white Americans.

The Ohio Infant Mortality Summit, held Wednesday, focused on recently released state data showing a slight dip in Ohio’s infant mortality rate from 7.4 per 1,000 live births in 2016 to 7.2 in 2017, local station ABC9 reported. However, while the number of white infant deaths decreased, the number of deaths among black infants rose from 15.2 to 15.6.

“What we do know, and what we are concentrating on this conference is really looking at racism,” said Dr. Stacy Scott, co-chair of the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality.

Advocate Ryan Adcock said he was unsurprised by the numbers, but said they were a clear indication that something must change

“We can’t just think about this as an issue for doctors to solve,” Adock, executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, told the news station. “We must think about the number of things that have to change about our society in order for us to start seeing more equal outcomes, and it’s going to be a very, very hard thing to do.”

This summer, Cradle Cincinnati, which works to address disparities in infant mortality rates, revealed a $2.5 million plan aimed at reducing infant deaths in Hamilton County. According to the organization’s website, 97 newborns died in Hamilton County in 2017 and the area ranks among the bottom 10 percent of counties across the U.S. for infant mortality.

Their goal? To ensure every child makes it to see their first birthday.

Research has shown that the leading causes of infant death in Hamilton County are birth defects, preterm births and unsafe sleeping patterns. A 2017 report published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that Black infants were four times more likely to die from complications associated with premature birth than white babies. What’s worse is that rates related to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and congenital malformations also increased for African-American infants between 2014 and 2015.

Now, new efforts are being launched in Cincinnati to connect with “at-risk” mothers so that they receive they help they need in order to have a healthy pregnancy.

These include “individuals on the street, in those communities, identifying pregnant women, building that rapport, helping us establish trust,” said Sandra Oxley, chief of Maternal Child & Family Health in Ohio Department of Health.

State health officials said they hope these new efforts will positively impact next year’s numbers.