Mahoning County infant mortality rate among highest in the nation

By William K. Alcorn


Mahoning County’s overall infant-mortality rate for 2006-10 was 9.7 per 1,000 live births, and significantly higher among the non-Hispanic black population, at 16.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The county’s overall infant-mortality rate is higher than that of Ohio, which at 7.7 per 1,000 live births ranks 47 out of the nation’s 50 states. The overall rate for the United States is 6.1 per 1,000.

In response, the Mahoning County and Youngstown city health departments, along with hospitals and socia-services agencies, are formulating a plan to decrease infant deaths and reduce the racially disparate birth outcomes, said Patricia Sweeney, Mahoning County District Board of Health commissioner.

The local organizations are collaborating with the Ohio Equity Institute and the Ohio Department of Health, which has retained CityMatCH, a national group of urban maternal- child-health experts, to assist in the process.

CityMatCH, at a meeting of the Mahoning County Birth Equity Team Monday, presented data indicating that low education and poverty are factors in infant mortality, but do not explain the disparity in birth outcomes between blacks and whites in the same socio-economic status.

Another factor is “birth spacing,” said Denise Pecha, director of programming for CityMatCH.

She said becoming pregnant sooner than 18 months after giving birth leads to poor outcomes at all levels, but disproportionately affects low-income and non-Spanish black women.

In addition to educating women about the need for spacing pregnancies, there is a need to educate the community, including doctors, about the use of progesterone, said Dr. Elena Rossi, head of the neonatal intensive-care unit for Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley.

She said the use of progesterone can prevent a large percentage of premature births.

According to the March of Dimes website, pre-term birth is birth that occurs too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and that progesterone, a hormone, plays a key role during pregnancy and may help prevent pre-term birth for some women.

During the second half of the two-hour workshop, the local birth-equity team identified four primary-focus areas to decrease infant mortality rates, said Sweeney.

They are: birth spacing — at least 18 months is recommended between delivery and the next pregnancy; healthy living for the mother; social support for the mother; and progesterone for women who have had previous premature births or who have a short cervix.

Ohio was seventh in the nation in the number of births in 2010; but it was 47th out of 50 states in overall infant mortality, 38th in white infant mortality, and 49th in black infant mortality, said Dr. Arthur R. James, associate professor in The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The goals are to improve infant mortality rates in Ohio for all and to decrease the gap between whites and blacks, Dr. James said.

Ohio is the only state to have a statewide effort to reduce infant-mortality rates, he said.

“If this model works, we have a huge opportunity to share it around the state and nation,” Dr. James said. “We are at a point where we know how to improve the disparity in white and black infant deaths.”

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