Shrinking race gap in infant death rate

The Baltimore Sun

In an effort to close the wide gap between black and white infant mortality rates in Anne Arundel County, health officials, nonprofit organizations and community leaders will announce a new program Thursday to promote health services for pregnant women and new mothers.

The Healthy Babies Initiative, which will kick off in July, will include radio spots, ads, posters, brochures and shared resource lists sent throughout the county and in baby care kits.

Anne Arundel County Tot's Line, a toll-free hot line that offers advice and resources for infants and children under 5, will be the first line of contact for women seeking help.

"It really is a way to reach families who are difficult to reach," said Patricia Cronin, director of the Family Tree, one of the co-sponsoring organizations. "Sometimes the health care arena overlooks many families, particularly underserved families.

While the campaign seeks to educate mothers of all races, its main focus is shrinking the alarming rate of black baby deaths in the county. The African-American infant mortality rate is triple the white rate, with an average of 16.2 deaths per 1,000 black births from 2000 to 2004, compared with 5.2 per 1,000 white babies, according to county research.

Statewide, the black infant mortality rate in 2005 was 12.7, compared with 4.7 for whites and 7.3 for all races.

The disparity in Anne Arundel is larger than in Baltimore and Baltimore County, and Howard County. In these areas, the rate of African-American baby deaths was 2.2, 2.3 and 2.8 times higher than white babies', respectively, said Dr. Jinlene Chan, a physician clinical specialist for the Anne Arundel County Health Department.

"We're most concerned about the disparity with African-American babies because it is so different," she said.

The Healthy Babies Coalition formed in the fall after a summit on the reasons for high infant mortality rates. County health department officials realized that it would take the entire community to figure out why there were so many black infant deaths and to forge a solution.

Coalition members found that a lack of awareness and understanding of infant mortality was among the biggest contributing factors.

The county health department and 46 other civic groups and community organizations make up the Healthy Babies Coalition, which is sponsoring the initiative. The participating groups include Sojourner-Douglass College and Empowering Believers Church. County agencies such as the Department of Social Services, the Mental Health Agency and the Local Management Board are also involved.

Estee Summers, director of the Tot's Line, said callers to 877-817-TOTS will be referred to other programs from various groups such as the Stork's Nest, a free prenatal education program for county pregnant women sponsored by Baltimore Washington Medical Center and other organizations.

Their campaign seeks to eliminate the black and white disparity by 2012 and have "all county babies be healthy and thrive," Chan said.

"This is quite ambitious," she said, "but we need to reach for this goal. We don't want to go halfway."

The announcement will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Meade Village Community Center, 1710 Meade Village Circle. 410-222-4215.

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