Local Black infant deaths down; still worse than Whites


Fetal and infant deaths are on the decline locally and nationally but significant racial disparities associated with these losses still exist in this area, according to information released recently by the Healthy Start Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties.

Kakuna Smith holds a photo of her 11-week-old daughter Kamilah Gilmore, who died while they shared a bed in a 2005 incident in Dolton, Ill. She now counsels other parents who have lost children while bed-sharing, a controversial practice typically defined as when infants sleep in the same bed as their parents and a parent accidentally rolls over on the baby and suffocates him or her.

Volusia and Flagler counties combined had 207 infant deaths from 2007 to 2011, said Dixie Morgese, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties.

Approximately 30 percent of these deaths were Black, Morgese noted.

“In our service area, racial disparities exist with Black infants dying at two to three times the rate of White infants, a slight improvement from previous rolling average data but still despicable,” Morgese said.

Most deaths preventable
She said fetal and infant mortality are sentinel indicators of a nation, a state, or a community.

“Many of these deaths – Black and White – are preventable. We are seeing too many resulting from co-sleeping and asphyxia related to unsafe sleeping environments,” Morgese explained.

Premature birth, low birth weight, and short gestation account for more than 60 percent of U.S. deaths.

In Florida, since the inception of programs such as Pregnancy Medicaid and Healthy Start, rates have seen a steady decline – from 9.6 in 1990 to 6.4 in 2011.

However, racial and ethnic disparities are significant and health providers are searching for ways to respond.

Morgese said Healthy Start is working with the African-American faith community to get the word out about the issues. Hand fans are available that can be passed out. The fans have important information on them about Sudden Infant Death syndrome.

“Though many agencies and institutions work together to prevent and respond to fetal and infant loss, we cannot do it alone,” she continued.

How to prevent loss
Morgese said ways to prevent infant loss include making sure:

  • babies have a safe sleeping environment free of crib bumpers, pillows, blankets or toys;
  • infants sleep alone on their backs in a well-ventilated room on a firm mattress;
  • babies do not co-sleep with others, including siblings
  • women have access to affordable health care – before, during, and in-between pregnancies.

Women of reproductive age should plan their pregnancies, Morgese noted.

“In some of our communities, 60 to 70 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and/or unwanted,” she said.

For more information, contact Healthy Start Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties at 386-252-4277 or send email to Dixie.morgese@healthystartfv.org.



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