Opinion article about the state's infant mortality rates
The announcement from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control that our state’s infant mortality rate dropped over 10 percent in 2009 is an encouraging sign of progress in ongoing efforts to ensure a good start for our state’s youngest residents.
This is the fourth year in a row that South Carolina has seen a drop in the number of babies who die before their first birthday. This is important for all of us as infant mortality is widely used as a marker for the overall health of a society. Those of us at DHEC recognize that importance and we work hard with our partners to provide the best possible birth outcomes for pregnant women and infants.
In 2009, we have seen a decrease in the number of deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, improper sleep position, and complications suffered by mothers during their pregnancies. Improvements in infant mortality require ongoing interventions before pregnancy, during and after pregnancy. There are many programs and services available to our residents through DHEC, our private physician partners, faith-based and not-for- profit organizations such as the March of Dimes, just to name a few.
DHEC launched a campaign to encourage pregnant women avoid exposure to secondhand smoke; and to seek assistance through the S.C. Tobacco Quitline to stop smoking. DHEC’s county public health department staff continued to promote breastfeeding and provide nutritional services to pregnant women and infants through the WIC programs; preventive immunizations and home visits to new mothers and infants at risk for poor outcomes at home; and reproductive health services to help mothers plan their pregnancies and focus on the importance of being healthy before they become pregnant.
Our agency partnered with the March of Dimes to provide the ABC’s of Safe Sleep campaign (Alone, on the Back and in a Crib) at the state and local level. Educational materials were provided to all new and expectant mothers; and a copy of the Give Your Baby Room to Breathe DVD was provided to hospitals around the state for new parents to view before going home with their newborn. Copies were also sent to community organizations and other state agencies. The March of Dimes grant also supported community awareness trainings in churches informing expectant and new parents, their families and other relatives, about the issue of safe sleep for infants.
The Cribs for Kids program is another safe sleep effort around the state that utilizes local community agencies and organizations to reach out to new parents who may need assistance through safe sleep education and furnishings for their baby to sleep safely.
South Carolina is fortunate to have a committed group of private providers to serve our pregnant women ensuring that they have access to early prenatal care. We also have a very strong and well-coordinated regionalized system of perinatal care for pregnant women and infants. In this system, pregnant women at risk for maternal complications and delivery a very small, early, or ill infant are referred to and cared for in the hospitals with doctors and their health care teams who specialize in the care of the sickest mothers and babies. This system of care remains essential to reducing maternal complications and improving the birth outcomes all of our pregnant mothers and infants in our state.
While we celebrate the decline in our state’s infant mortality rate for all infants, we also recognize that much remains to be done. Minority women still experience infant mortality rates at two times the rate of white women in the state. This is a complex issue, yet eliminating this disparity must remain a priority. Overall, progress is being made in our state. Effective partnerships between public health, private providers, patients and partner organizations remain as key components in continuing to ensure that our infants are born healthy and develop into the future leaders of our state. We continue to look for innovative ways to reach the people we serve with the resources we have. We and our partners are committed to making sure that the downward trend we are seeing in the state’s infant mortality keeps going down.
We all know the excitement and joy a newborn provides his or her family. Our work is to help ensure a healthy future for our state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents.
Lisa Waddell, M.D. is deputy commissioner for health services at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control