Local infant-mortality rates outpace some poor nations

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    Toledo's infant mortality rate is worse than that of some poor nations.

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  • Toledo's infant mortality rate is worse than that of some poor nations.
    Toledo's infant mortality rate is worse than that of some poor nations.

    Lucas County officials said the infant-mortality rate among African-American babies is higher here than the rate in some third-world countries, an issue that has prompted some officials and clergy members to join forces and tackle the problem.

    “We have a problem with lives being cut off at the start. Lucas County has one of the 10 highest infant-mortality rates in a state that has one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the nation,” said Donald Perryman, pastor of Center for Hope Church and president of United Pastors for Social Empowerment.

    He spoke at a Thursday news conference that was held by members of his organization, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, and the Lucas County commissioners to highlight the severity of the issue across Ohio and in the local community.

    Mr. Perryman noted that the picture is the most alarming when it comes to Hispanic and African-American babies.

    “Ohio is 47th in the country, nothing to be proud of in infant mortality, and when it comes to minorities and African-Americans, we’re 49th. I mean, there is really only one below us, and that is hard to believe,” said Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County Health Commissioner. The 50th state is Indiana.

    Several of the speakers pointed out that the African-American infant-mortality rate in Lucas County at 10.4 deaths per 1,000 births is higher than the infant-mortality rate in Botswana, for example.

    “I got angry when I heard these statistics. This is a third-world county in a third-world state. That’s what we are acting like, and when have we as a community had enough? Hopefully it starts today,” said Pete Gerken, a Lucas County commissioner.

    Dennis Hicks, the minority health coordinator at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, has been working with the Ohio Equity Institute, which is a three-year project put together by the Ohio Department of Public Health.

    “That three-year project is close to halfway through. The first year we worked on understanding our local data to get a picture on what’s happening in Lucas County. The second year, which is where we are right now, is about developing initiatives to respond to what the data has told us,” Mr. Hicks said.

    Added Dr. Grossman: “These are people that really know the data.”

    The study is comprised of nine of the major cities in Ohio. He said the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department appealed to the community to help fund the project.

    Mr. Hicks said the group has zeroed in on three key areas that it believes are related to rising infant mortality rates. One is “safe sleep.”

    “We know that in Lucas County, co-sleeping with parents leads to accidents that kill babies. Also, belly sleeping is an important risk factor. Placing the baby in a crib without bedding, stuffed toys, etc. reduces the risk of SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome],” Mr. Hicks said.

    The second focus area is hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, which are risk factors for poor birth outcomes. And the third area of focus is race.

    “Even when we control for genetics, socioeconomic status, and education, we still have birth outcome disparities,” Mr. Hicks said. 

    “In fact, African-American women with college degrees have higher infant-mortality rates than white women without a high school diploma.

    “National Institutes of Health data points to a lifetime of chronic stress brought about by being a minority in America.”

    Mr. Hicks said one goal of the Ohio Equity Institute project is to partner with local organizations so that the programs created can be implemented in the community by those groups after the institute goes away.

    The United Pastors for Social Empowerment will reach out to the minority community in Lucas County to sustain initiatives begun by the institute, he said.

    The pastors’ group will hold a kick-off event for the Moses Project: Saving Babies, Ensuring Futures from 4-6 p.m. Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1420 W. Bancroft St.

    The community forum will feature Dr. Arthur James, an expert on minority health and infant mortality in Ohio and in the nation, Mr. Hicks said.

    Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at mtaylor@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.