By NICK MCWHERTER
Capital News Service
LANSING- Michigan’s infant mortality rate has remained higher than the national average for the past 20 years, and infants die in Michigan at a rate faster than all but 13 other states.
The Michigan Department of Community Health has called a summit to identify strategies to improve the health of Michigan residents by reducing and preventing infant mortality.
The Michigan Call to Action to Reduce and Prevent Infant Mortality summit will take place on Monday, Oct. 17, at the Ann Arbor Marriott at Eagle Crest in Ypsilanti.
Infant mortality rate reflects the overall health in the state of Michigan, as well as the quality and accessibility of prenatal care for women, said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, a senior research associate at the Michigan League for Human Services.
In 2009, the infant mortality rate in Michigan was 7.7 deaths per 1,000 births; the national average was last recorded in 2007 and was 6.7 deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
The mortality rate is determined by the number of infant deaths before the age of 1 for every 1,000 live births.
The three highest county rates as of 2009 belong to Calhoun, St. Joseph and Lapeer. Lapeer has the highest mortality rate in Michigan with 13 deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
“I think now, more than ever, this issue is so critical,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “We really need to invest in making sure we have more kids born healthy and that they reach school ready to learn and that they have the support necessary to be successful.”
The lack of accessible healthcare is one reason for Michigan’s high infant mortality rate, Zehnder-Merrell said.
In Michigan, nearly 2 million people lived in poverty in 2010 and the poverty rate has jumped 20 percent since the recession, census data shows.
“Absolutely, it plays a role,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “Poverty is closely aligned with your health and access to services. The likelihood of you having access to health insurance benefits if you are employed at a low wage job is going to be minimal.”
Women living in poverty are far more likely to have preterm and low-birth weight babies and are at a higher risk for infant mortality, according to the Michigan League of Human Services.
Racial disparities are prevalent in the infant mortality rate. African-American children are at a much higher risk than white children.
“When you look at the rates over time, basically it has leveled out,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “When you break it up by race and ethnicity, our infant mortality rate for African-American babies is roughly triple what it is for white babies.”
The infant mortality rate in Michigan has increased the past three years. In 2008, Michigan’s rate was 7.4 percent, in 2009 it was 7.5 percent, and in 2010, it moved back up to 7.7 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
“One of the huge things that we can do is to begin to address more forcefully the huge disparities between the living conditions for African-American and whites,” Zehnder-Merrell said.
The purpose of the summit is to identify the issues statewide that need to be addressed and the Michigan Department of Community Health will seek input from stakeholders to identify the issues, said Angela Minicuci, public information officer at the Michigan Department of Community Health
“We are just hoping that eventually that is going to help more mothers in Michigan have healthy babies and healthy births,” said Rebecca Noricks, communications manager at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a sponsor of the summit. “We have three goals that we care about; we care about helping kids be healthy, educated and living in economically secure families.”
Racial disparities in the number of infant mortality deaths will be addressed by the summit, according to Minicuci.
“The bigger disparities, even more so then poverty, are racial disparities,” Minicuci said. “African-American infants are actually 2.5 to 3 times more likely than Caucasian infants to die before reaching their first birthday. The summit is really aiming to figure out is what is causing these disparities and what can do address them.”
Although the summit is a step in the right direction, some people feel that more needs to be done regarding the issue of infant mortality in Michigan.
“I commend the governor, and the department for focusing on this issue, but there are many programs that we have had in place that have been working in communities and we have chosen to eliminate the funding for them,” Zehnder-Merrell said.
A wide range of things needs to be done in order to curb infant mortality, according to the Michigan League of Human Services, including educational opportunities, housing options, accessible health care and comprehensive programs to prevent teen pregnancy.
“It isn’t just one thing that we can do,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “We have to be working on multiple fronts to address the issue. Poverty is a huge, huge issue.
“When you look internationally, the U.S. compares very poorly with other industrialized nations in terms of our infant mortality rate,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “Part of that is we tolerate a much higher level of child poverty in our culture than other countries. And we also restrict access to basic health preventive care much more than in other industrialized countries.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By NICK MCWHERTER