Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Ounce of prevention

Government intervention alone won’t end infant mortality, but can help Ohio’s youngest residents

Infant morality rates in Lucas County and Ohio are appallingly high, particularly among African-Americans. This public health problem demands expanded education initiatives and increased support for expectant mothers.

The dilemma includes many factors: a mother’s socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity; her overall health and access to high-quality medical care, and such issues as drug abuse, alcoholism, and obesity. They require a coordinated response.

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Lucas County officials say the death rate among African-American babies — 10.4 deaths per 1,000 births — is higher here than in some third-world countries. The county’s overall infant mortality rate is 6.8 deaths, compared to the national rate of 5.9.

Ohio also lags behind the national average. From 2008 through 2010, the infant-mortality rate was 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births, and 14.1 deaths among African-American babies statewide.

Better access to preventive and prenatal health care for all mothers must be the first line of defense. Women who are healthy before they become pregnant are more likely to remain healthy throughout the pregnancy and to give birth to a stronger infant.

As northwest Ohio and the rest of the state emerge from the Great Recession, it is a moral imperative to provide adequate funding for programs that help first-time mothers. In the early 1990s, when infant mortality reached crisis proportions in some U.S. cities, state legislatures subsidized programs that enabled nurses to make regular home visits, especially to low-income families.

The nurses worked with expectant mothers, providing information about nutrition, prenatal care, the dangers of substance abuse, and ways to avoid low birth weights — a primary cause of infant mortality.

The much-maligned Affordable Care Act guarantees health benefits that include a minimum standard of prenatal care. With such access, it’s to be hoped that more pregnant women will seek early, regular medical intervention.

Expanded public education campaigns can address such issues as safe sleeping practices, smoking and drinking cessation, and the need for maternal and newborn health screening. They should include strategies to reach younger mothers who use social media.

Lucas County and Ohio have to do better. Expectant mothers must be held accountable for their personal behavior. But they also need adequate access to food, medical care, transportation, baby supplies, and mental-health counseling if the plague of infant mortality is finally to be curbed.

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