WASHINGTON, D.C. – In case you missed it, a recent report from Cleveland.com shows that, despite falling death rates for white babies, black infant mortality remains high. According to the report, black infants die 2.5 to 3 times more often than the white babies.

“Despite having some of the finest doctors and best children’s hospitals in the country, Ohio still has a serious problem with racial disparities in birth outcomes – black infants die at three times the rate of white infants in Ohio, and we rank near the bottom in deaths of African American infants. We need to support our communities with the tools and resources they need to empower moms and their families,” said Senator Brown.

Earlier this month, Brown hosted a roundtable discussion in Columbus with patients, advocates and health providers to address health disparities, combat the Black maternal mortality crisis and reduce the maternal mortality rate statewide. The roundtable was the first in a series that Brown will host across the state, as he works to hear directly from Ohioans on how best to address health disparities.

Earlier this week, Brown introduced two pieces of legislation that will increase access to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and help combat medical issues associated with lack of access to adequate nutrition. Access to WIC and good nutrition can help reduce the risk of heart disease, minimize maternal complications, and reduce the risk of low birth weight – a leading factor in infant mortality.

The Community Access to Resources and Education for Families (CARE for Families) Act would create a grant program for local WIC agencies and clinics to increase the number of Ohioans in the WIC program. The grants would help increase the involvement of WIC staff in the community, improve health outcomes by better connecting WIC to other community health providers, facilitate referrals between WIC and health care providers and improve the coordination, quality, and cost effectiveness of health care services.

The WIC Enrollment Collaboration Act would strengthen collaboration between SNAP, Medicaid, and WIC so that more WIC-eligible pregnant women and very young children can get enrolled during a critical stage of development.

Combined, the bills will ensure families are getting the care and resources they need and building on the success of the WIC program to help improve health outcomes and combat maternal and infant mortality.

In December, President Trump signed a spending package into law that included key health wins for Ohio that Brown helped secure, including funding to fight maternal and infant mortality.

Brown also hosted a roundtable discussion with central Ohio mothers in October as he led the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Healthy Start program. Healthy Start aims to reduce the national infant mortality rate by identifying and supporting communities with infant mortality rates that are at least one and a half times the U.S. national average or increasing above the national average. 

In March, Brown introduced the bicameral Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA) Act. The legislation seeks to reduce America’s rising maternal and infant mortality rates, especially for moms and babies of color who are significantly more likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy.

The Cleveland.com story can be found here and below:

Cleveland.com: Ohio infant mortality continues to decline, gains by race remain uneven 

By: Brie Zeltner

February 25, 2020

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio’s infant mortality rate continued its slow but steady decline in 2018, driven largely by falling death rates for white babies. The rate of infant death in Ohio’s black community, however, remains stubbornly high.

In Ohio, 938 infants died before reaching a first birthday in 2018, down from 982 the year before. The state’s rate of infant death, calculated by the number of deaths among live-born babies per 1,000 births, was 6.9 in 2018. The rate has fallen by a little more than 1 percent a year for the past decade.

The disparity in the rate of infant deaths by race continues to be high, however, and the state still lags behind the national average in overall infant deaths, which is considered a basic indication of the health of a community.

For white babies in the state, the picture is one of continued improvement. From 2009 to 2018, the white infant mortality rate in Ohio has fallen by 2.4 percent overall. The 2018 white infant mortality rate for the state, at 5.4, is below the national average.

Despite a drop in black infant deaths from 2017 to 2018, the number of infant deaths and the overall infant mortality rate among black babies, in contrast, has not significantly changed over the past decade. The rate of black infant deaths remains 2 1/2 to 3 times higher than the rate for white babies.

“I think we’re making progress,” said Alicia Leatherman, program adminstrator for home visiting and maternal and infant wellness at the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), referring to the drop in black infant deaths in 2018. But, she added, the optimism is “cautious” because “one year doesn’t make a trend.”

Infant mortality statistics are typically released in the fall, and lag more than a year behind due to the time it takes to complete death investigations and compile such data. There was an extra delay in the release of the 2018 infant mortality data because the health department (under new leadership since Gov. Mike DeWine took office in 2019) wanted to look more deeply into the performance of the counties where the majority of both births and deaths of black babies occur to gauge the impact of the state’s investment.

Cuyahoga County, which had the second highest infant mortality rate of large Ohio counties in 2018, behind Hamilton county, is one of these. First Year Cleveland, the city-county infant mortality initiative, today released its 2019 data which showed a continued drop in infant deaths here, with the infant mortality rate falling from 8.65 in 2018 to 8.48 last year.

Bernadette Kerrigan, executive director of FYC, said that 2018 is “now in the rearview mirror" and the group is focused not on reducing black infant mortality for a single year, but instead on addressing the implicit bias and racism in all of the county systems that serve, house and care for black women to effect long-term change.

The leading causes of infant death in Ohio remain conditions related to prematurity and preterm births, birth defects, external injuries (including accidental suffocation in bed) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), in that order.

There were at least 140 sleep-related deaths in Ohio in 2018. Of these, more than half were black babies, more than half involved bedsharing, and almost 80 percent of these deaths overall occurred in a non-safe sleep environment.

ODH this year also broke down more fully the characteristics of the infants that died too early and too small in 2018, a perennial problem in the state and the rest of the country, Leatherman said.

Neonatal deaths, occurring in the first month of life, accounted for about two-thirds of infant deaths in Ohio in 2018, a figure which has remained largely steady in recent years. These deaths are closely related to prematurity: Although only 0.3% of infants were born at less than 24 weeks gestation (full term is at least 37 weeks), these births accounted for about one-third of all infant deaths in 2018, according to the state report.

Most of the infants who died in Ohio in 2018 were born too early and too small:

  • Almost half were born at less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces, considered very low birth weight;
  • 44% were born before 28 weeks gestation;
  • Of the babies who died, 12% died in the first hour of life, and 28 percent more died in the first day of life;
  • Almost one-third of the babies who died were born before 24 weeks gestation, the cutoff before which a baby is unlikely to survive.

The state report did reveal a few glimmers of hope:

  • There were fewer premature births in the black population in 2018 compared to the year before, especially in babies born prior to 23 weeks gestation. The black neonatal mortality rate was 11.3 in 2017 and 8.5 in 2018.
  • After a five-year increase, the black infant mortality rate went from 15.6 per 1,000 live births in 2017 to 13.9 in 2018. The change did not reach statistical significance when looked at over a ten-year period, however.
  • Fewer mothers smoked in the first trimester of pregnancy in 2018 than 2017, and more mothers received prenatal care in the first trimester.

Leatherman said the improvements in preterm infant deaths in the black community makes the department “hopeful that the disparity gap may soon begin to diminish."

Overall, the U.S. has seen a slow but steady decline in infant mortality for decades, falling from about 8 deaths per 1,000 in the mid-1990′s to less than 6 in 2017, the most recent data available.

The American rate is still far above other developed countries, however.