Outrageous Racial Differences in Infant Mortality

Article published Aug 17, 2007
Infant mortality a ‘huge problem’ locally
When it comes to infant death, Leon and surrounding counties have some of the highest rates in the state, particularly among African-Americans.

In Leon County, the death rate for white babies is 3.6 for every 1,000 births, well below Florida’s overall rate of 7.2. However, the rate for non-white babies is nearly double the state number. In Gadsden County, the rate for non-white babies is more than twice the state’s overall rate. And in Wakulla and Taylor counties, it’s more than four times higher, according to the Florida Department of Health.

“So it’s a huge problem that we must address,” said Dr. Harold Bland of the Florida State University College of Medicine.

On Thursday, the Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition hosted a community meeting on infant survival at the Leon County Health Department on West Orange Avenue. Experts gave moms and moms-to-be practical advice on staying well.

“The purpose … is for us to educate the community about infant mortality and survival – what we have to do to keep our babies safe and healthy,” said Tomica Archie Smith, quality-assurance director for Healthy Start.

Bland said pregnant women must see the doctor regularly. It could be too late if they wait for a health emergency and then call 911.

“With good prenatal care, hopefully the physician will recognize very early on if there’s a problem with the pregnancy and help correct that,” said Bland, who also cautioned women against using drugs and alcohol, even before they’re pregnant.

Some women don’t get good prenatal care because they can’t afford insurance, transportation or child care, said Dr. Fran Close of the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Others have a perception that the care they’re getting is good, even if that’s not the case.

And some women have learned bad habits from their mothers and other relatives, Close said. Douching can cause a bacterial infection that can lead to preterm labor. Failing to brush and floss and see the dentist can lead to gum disease, which some researchers believe might cause pre-term labor.

“Way before a woman decides to have a baby, she needs to be taking care of herself,” Close said.

Crystal Pace, 21, is expecting a baby boy on Nov. 14. She said she came to the event to learn more about being a healthy mom.

“I learned something already,” she said. “Not taking care of your teeth (can cause) preterm labor.”

Leon: White, 3.6; Non-white, 14.0; Overall, 8.4.

Gadsden: White, 7.2; Non-white, 17.3; Overall, 13.5.

Jefferson: White, 20.8; Non-white, 14.1; Overall, 18.0.

Taylor: White, 0.0; Non-white, 33.3; Overall, 8.2.

Wakulla: White, 3.9; Non-white, 31.3; Overall, 6.9.

Florida: White, 5.3; Non-white, 12.5; Overall, 7.2.

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