Black churches can help lower infant-mortality rate

Few can deny the power that the African-American church in this country has wielded for many decades in shaping positive and lasting political and social change.

The black church has galvanized millions to fight racism and discrimination in the successful civil-rights movement.

The black church has mobilized millions to participate and vote for local, state and national candidates with African-Americans’ best interests at heart in campaigns such as “souls to the polls.”

The black church has motivated millions to change destructive personal behaviors in a wide range of public-health campaigns, ranging from sickle-cell anemia to lung and heart disease to HIV/AIDS.

The church’s stature as a highly respected and trusted institution in the African-American community has paved the way for progressive change in sociopolitical norms for our nation and in more healthy behaviors for individuals

As such, an initiative launched this week to encourage black churches in the Mahoning Valley to play a more dominant role in the fight to reduce our shamefully high infant-mortality rate carries with it much weight. Pastors and parishioners at those churches should waste no time in joining the movement.

The initiative began Sunday at Mount Olive Fire Baptized Holiness Church on the South Side of Youngstown. There, Leigh Green, executive director of the Youngstown Office on Minority Health, raised awareness of the issue in a program titled Baby Shower for Jesus.

Given the severity of infant mortality in the Mahoning Valley, the need for aggressive consciousness-raising as a first step toward reducing its scope cannot be minimized.


Consider that Mahoning County ranks 86th highest out of 88 Ohio counties in black infant mortality, or the rate of death during the first year of life per 1,000 births.

Consider that the the African-American IMR of 17.7 in Mahoning County is more than three times higher than the IMR of 5.2 for white babies.

Consider, too, that 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, Syria, Iran, Thailand or Tonga.

In spite of those grim realities, Youngstown, Mahoning County and the state of Ohio have a wealth of programs and initiatives aimed squarely at reducing infant mortality in general and at decreasing African-American infant mortality in particular.

In recent years, The Vindicator has widely publicized and staunchly supported such programs as those offered by the city’s minority health office, the county’s Health Department and the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality..

They range from promotion of safe-sleep protocols for infants to health-care monitoring and hormone-treatment programs for young mothers to initiatives to encourage responsible fatherhood during a baby’s first year of life.

But these promising programs can gain maximum success only through maximum participation. That’s where the black church comes in to play a critical role.

The church’s paramount standing in much of the black community makes it a natural partner with health organizations to address and reverse gnawing health disparities among African-Americans.

As such, leaders of those churches in the Valley should answer Green’s call to action and launch their own aggressive offensives. Together, the churches and public-health programs can make tangible gains toward lessening the pain of way too many lives cut way too short way too soon.

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