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Black Infant Mortality Highest in the Country, But Boston is Making a Difference

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Black infants born in America are more than twice as likely to die before turning 1 than any other racial or ethnic group, according to data from the National Center of Health Statistics.

In 2011 the infant mortality rate for Blacks was 11.5 deaths per 1,000 live births—nearly the same as it was for whites 30 years ago.

Of course it’s no secret that Blacks in America have a greater risk of illness, injury, disease and death than other racial and ethnic groups. The numbers show Black babies are no exception to the long-standing trend.

Infant mortality rates are such a crucial statistic that it’s one of the most common ways countries gauge the health of their population. Infant mortality rates help reveal maternal health, socioeconomic conditions, health care services and public-health practices.

Cities around the country are taking it upon themselves to implement programs to combat the high mortality rates. One of the most notable programs is through the Boston Public Health Commission.

That program focuses on prenatal care, as well as requiring public healthcare workers to help women lead healthy lifestyles before their first pregnancy and maintain the same practices between pregnancies. Nurses also check up on the babies until the age of 5. Because of programs like these, there was a noteworthy decline in the premature and underweight births of Black infants.

In 2011, there were 11.5 deaths per 1,000 live births among black babies in the U.S. But in Boston in 2012, the number was a much lower 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The comparable numbers for white babies in 2011 was 5.1 deaths per 1,000 in the U.S. In Boston it was 3.0 deaths for white babies in 2012.

“We really targeted, for the first time, black women,” said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “The report shows a persistent decline in infant deaths. This isn’t just chance; this is a real difference.”

“There’s a new conceptual approach that says that rather than focus on prenatal care, our best opportunity is to discuss the time before pregnancies and [during] inter-pregnancies,” Brent Ewig, director of policy at the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, told the Boston Globe.

Boston continues to have lower infant mortalities rates among Black children than the national average, perhaps providing a model for the rest of the nation to follow.

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