NPR Examines High Infant Mortality Among Blacks in Southern States
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on efforts to lower the infant mortality rate among blacks. Infants born to black women are twice as likely to die in their first year as infants born to white women, "Morning Edition" reports. The disparity exists both among low-income women and well-educated, affluent women. While infant mortality nationwide has declined steadily since 1960, some Southern states have seen the rate stagnate or increase in recent years.
Alan Brann, professor of pediatrics at Emory University, said it is unclear why the infant mortality rate is greater among blacks, but a high rate of very low birth weight infants contributes to the problem. Low birthweight "is an indicator of the status of health of the community," Brann said, adding, "It's the best canary we have in the mine to say this population that has high rates of very low birthweight babies are not healthy people."
Access to prenatal care and primary care between pregnancies also contributes to poor maternal and fetal health, "Morning Edition" reports. In addition, requirements that Medicaid applicants present original birth certificates and apply in person make it difficult for some women to obtain coverage. In rural areas, women must travel long distances to see providers, few of whom accept Medicaid, according to Janice Johnson, a social worker with Delta Health Partners.
Oleta Fitzgerald, Southern regional director of the Children's Defense Fund, said the high infant mortality rate in the Southern U.S. is tied to poverty. "Nobody wants to take care of poor children, whether they are black or white or whatever color," Fitzgerald said, adding, "So it is a moral issue, and it is something that we are going to have to deal with" (Lohr, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/21).
Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online.