Reducing infant deaths a priority; SIDS information to be disseminated in black community


Alarmed by the high rate of sudden infant death syndrome among African-Americans, several Baltimore-area organizations have made it a priority to disseminate information on proper child care.

A coalition of six groups, including the Maryland Women in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pledged their support yesterday to reduce the number of SIDS deaths among African-Americans during the "Back to Sleep and Safe Bedding" campaign kickoff in Baltimore.

According to the University of Maryland's Center for Infant and Child Loss, which was host of the event, African-American infants on average account for 32 percent of Maryland's births and 58 percent of SIDS cases.

"As a grandmother, those numbers ran me over," said Cardrienne P. Griffin of the Epsilon Omega Chapter Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, one of the local groups supporting the effort. "Now that we have the information, we need to spread it."

The event yesterday, which was held at the Baptist Missionary Convention in the 900 block of Madison Ave., launched a statewide effort led by the Center for Infant and Child Loss to reduce the incidence of SIDS. Director Jodi Shaefer said the center plans to air advertisements on the radio and has posted signs inside most Mass Transit Administration buses.

The campaign will last as long as funding -- most of it from a $35,000 state health department grant -- lasts. "We're doing this on a shoestring budget and applying for other funds," Shaefer said.

Last year, there were 63 SIDS deaths in Maryland, including 22 in Baltimore, Shaefer said. Nearly 4,000 deaths occur each year nationwide. SIDS refers to the sudden death of an apparently healthy baby.

The numbers have been dropping since 1994, when the U.S. surgeon general's office promoted placing babies on their backs to sleep. But Shaefer said there's still work to do.

Shaefer said an infant should be placed with feet toward the foot of the crib and the blanket tucked in under the mattress, to prevent the baby from sliding under the blanket. Parents should make sure bedding is safe and not too loose and bulky, and that the baby's head remains uncovered.

"We need community organizations to talk to their communities about this campaign," Shaefer said.

The campaign started at a prayer breakfast in March with officials from the UM center, the Maryland Women in NAACP and several ministers, Shaefer said. After being informed of the high number of SIDS cases among African-Americans, the participants promised to take action.

The Epsilon Omega Chapter Alpha Kappa Sorority, which has 250 members, will start a crib exchange and conduct infant-care classes for mothers at its new family support center -- scheduled to open early next year in the 3500 block of Dolfield Ave. The Naomi Grand Chapter Order of Eastern Star, affiliated with the Most Worshipful Hiram Grand Lodge, is providing space at 1205 Eutaw Place for meetings and seminars.

The Most Worshipful Hiram Grand Lodge, the Baptist Ministers Conference and the Maryland Women in the NAACP have focused on getting the information to their members.

The Rev. Dehaven Vaughn of the United Clergy for Social Action said his organization's 150 clergymen will take the message into their churches.

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