An African-American baby born on the West Side of Cleveland in 2013 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, Bot- swana, the Gaza Strip, Thailand and Tonga.
That disheartening data, culled from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, paints a bleak picture of the crisis of infant mortality in Ohio, particularly among African Americans. Even more disturbing is that Ohio’s rate ranks among the deadliest in the entire United States. The Buckeye State falls 48th in the nation in its overall infant mortality rate and 49th among African Americans.
This plague demands a concerted multipronged remedy. Fortunately for Ohioans, two state senators have stepped up to the plate to offer a set of viable tools toward decreasing our shamefully high infant-mortality rate and increasing the quantity and quality of life for our state’s newest and most innocent residents.
FIVE INFANT-MORTALITY BILLS
State Sens. Shannon Jones, R- Springboro and Charleta B. Tavares, D-Columbus, have introduced a legislative package to fight the state’s 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 appalling stain.
“Right now, Ohio is coming in nearly last in the nation for infant mortality, which is an unacceptable standard,” Jones said last month when the legislation was introduced. “We lose too many babies in Ohio before they reach their first birthday and many of these cases can be prevented with proper training and education.”
Their legislative 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.
OTHER FACTORS PLAY ROLE
Of course, progressive new laws can only do so much to improve the overall health of Ohio babies. Dr. Arthur James, co-director of the Ohio Department of Health’s Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality, points out a variety of other factors that play a role in high rates of early childhood deaths.
“Things like poverty, undereducation, unemployment, which are not generally considered quality measures in terms of health care, are things that have a significant impact on infant mortality,” he said. Data that show infant-mortality rates highest among low-income urban dwellers bear out James’ assertion.
Therefore as Ohio makes inroads toward revitalizing its economy and increasing quality of life for all, potential beneficiaries include the state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents. Ohio leaders should keep that in mind as another motivator to hasten the state’s exit from the enduring aftereffects of the Great Recession. Ohio lawmakers can make a good-faith start by speedily approving Jones and Tavares’ compassionate legislative prescription.