Thursday, August 25, 2011

Baltimore Sees Reduction in Infant Mortality

Yesterday, I had the privilege of joining Governor Martin O’Malley, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, DHMH Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and our community partners at the University of Maryland School of Social Work for an important announcement regarding infant mortality in Baltimore City.

Baltimore has struggled for years with high rates of infant mortality, and the reality is that this rate had been growing. I am pleased to report that last year, infant mortality dropped by 19 percent in Baltimore City. Of this, there was a 40% reduction in infant sleep related deaths in Baltimore. Eleven fewer babies died from sleep-related causes as compared to the previous year. While that number may not sound big, it means the world to families affected by these preventable deaths.

There are some who would argue that this reduction is due to a statistical cycle and does not reflect outcomes due to a particular intervention.  While we are cautiously optimistic that that is not the case, we are confident that these numbers are going in the right direction and that our ongoing efforts will continue to drive down the curve and reduce racially-based disparities.

Two years ago, the Health Department, together with the Family League of Baltimore City, charted a course forward through the B’more for Healthy Babies campaign using data we collect about all infant deaths. This campaign, which has 3 phases, is providing education and outreach to mothers, fathers, grandparents and other caregivers to make sure they know the safest way to take care of babies.

Last year the Mayor helped launch the first phase of the campaign by issuing a safe sleep proclamation: Healthy Parenting. Through our community partnerships, our Sleep Safe video is being shown in all eight of the city birthing hospitals, in the jury assembly room, and at intake at the Eager Street prison. These are non-traditional ways of delivering life saving public-health messages. Additionally, we have trained over 1,600 service providers, including DSS workers, community care givers, and health professionals in the ABC’s of safe sleep.

In the next few months we will launch the second phase of the B’More for Healthy Babies campaign. The focus will include family planning, early entry into prenatal care, and smoking cessation. The third and final phase will focus on the importance of good health on a person’s ability to lead life to the fullest and to have healthy babies.

It’s so important for parents to be educated about how to take care of their newborns. That begins with pregnant women and mothers taking care of themselves – by eating healthy and not smoking or drinking. Fathers can also contribute by learning how to put babies down safely. And nobody should smoke around pregnant women and infants; the health risks from second-hand smoke are real.

Today, we’re happy to report progress on one of these important issues, and it’s always good to share some good news. But there’s plenty of work to be done.  The fact remains: far too many children under the age of one are dying in our city, and many of these deaths are preventable. Baltimore is determined to do everything it can to reduce – and eliminate – preventable infant deaths. This starts with each one of us acting on what we can contribute. Together we can make a difference.

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