Infant death rate must be reducted

South Bend Tribune

For years, there have been more questions than answers about Indiana’s consistently high infant mortality rate.

Why do so many Hoosier babies — 600 each year — die in the first year of life?

What can be done to reverse this unacceptable situation?

A new report from the state of Indiana, which details the findings of an advanced analytics study, offers some answers.

But those answers must in turn spur actions in a state where the overall infant mortality rate was 6.7 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2012.

The study represents a collaboration between several state agencies, including the Department of Health and Family and Social Services Administration.

The 28-page report identifies inadequate prenatal care, Medicaid enrollment and young maternal age as the biggest risk factors for infant mortality.

Fifteen- to 20-year-old mothers with fewer than 10 prenatal visits were at the highest level of risk for adverse health outcomes.

No statistic contained within this report hits as hard as this one: While the identified high-risk “subpopulations” of Hoosiers account for only 1.6 percent of all births in Indiana, they account for nearly 50 percent of infant deaths. This suggests that targeted interventions at this group could have a real impact on the numbers — and save lives.

According to the Pence administration, the report’s findings already have changed the way the state is addressing infant mortality.

Last month saw the launch of “Labor of Love,” a yearlong $1.3 million public health campaign with a goal of educating and supporting mothers so they may have healthy pregnancies and infants.

The campaign ( focuses on the importance of early and regular prenatal care; safe sleep practices; avoiding tobacco, drugs and alcohol before, during and after pregnancy; and breast-feeding.

Efforts to increase awareness and educate the public should be part of defeating the scourge that is infant mortality.

But much more must be done. In last month’s State of the State address, Gov. Mike Pence said that reducing infant mortality is a top health priority in the state — and a priority in this session. In a statement accompanying the release of the data-rich report on issue, Pence said, “We have the potential to save lives.”

When hundreds of Hoosier babies fail to reach their first birthdays each year, how can that potential be viewed as anything less than an urgent duty?

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