Ohio must do more to reduce shameful infant mortality rate

Many gauges monitor the over- all health of a society, not the least of which is the infant mortality rate. Using that barometer, Ohio sadly ranks among the sickest of the sick in our nation.

According to data released this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio ranks 47th highest of the 50 states in the number of babies who died in the first year of life, per 1,000 live births.

Worse yet, as a special report by The Vindicator documented earlier this week, Ohio ranks highest in the nation in infant mortality among African-American babies.

Indeed an African-American baby born on the South Side of Youngstown has less of a chance to survive his or her first year of life than an infant born in such faraway and far less developed nations as Libya, Botswana, the Gaza Strip, Thailand and Tonga‚ã.

It’s therefore long past time for the Buckeye State to aggressively treat and fight this heart-rending malady.

As Dr. Elena Rossi, neonatologist and associate chairwoman of pediatrics at Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, puts it, “Clearly, this is a wake-up call telling us that we need to increase our energy and efforts to direct resources to reduce the infant mortality rate locally and statewide.”

Fortunately, State Sens. Shannon Jones, R- Springboro, and Charleta B. Tavares, D-Columbus, are answering that call via a legislative package that aims to substantially reduce the state’s appallingly high rate of infant deaths. Their comprehensive package attacks the problem from many dimensions and stands as a promising start toward cleansing our state of this abhorrent stain.

Their package comprises five bills, each worthy in its own right. They are:

Senate Bill 276, which would require safe-sleep education materials to be distributed to all new parents.

Senate Bill 277, which would establish an Infant Mortality Commission to inventory state services, resources, and their funding streams available to address Ohio’s high rate of infant deaths.

Senate Bill 278, which would require use of the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Incident Reporting Form whenever a child 1 year old or younger dies suddenly when thought to be in good health.

Senate Bill 279, which would to establish a two-year pilot program using the model of Centering Pregnancy to improve birth outcomes at four Federally Qualified Health Centers.

Senate Bill 280, which would require case-management services for postpartum care be included in Medicaid managed care.

Unfortunately, their legislative prescription has been languishing in a General Assembly committee since February. Let’s hope legislators recognize the severity of the problem and the urgency of treating it by expediting these promising bills toward passage this fall.

Risky health behaviors

Of course, progressive new laws can do only so much to improve the overall health of Ohio babies. A variety of factors play a role in mothering healthy babies. Among them are ensuring all pregnant women are educated on avoiding risky health behaviors and on the necessity to get medical attention early and often.

Poverty also ranks among the root causes of low-birth weight and complications during pregnancy, according to Dr. David M. Davis, owner of DMHD Family Practice in Youngstown. Sky-high IMRs in urban areas substantiate his assertion.

Therefore, as Ohio makes inroads toward revitalizing its economy and enhancing quality of life for all, potential beneficiaries must include the state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents. Lawmakers can make a good-faith start toward that end by speedily approving Jones’ and Tavares’ compassionate legislative package.

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