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State Lawmakers Working To Combat Infant Mortality

Nov 20, 2014

Credit odh.ohio.gov

Ohio's infant mortality rate ranks near the bottom among the states.

Lawmakers are working  to try and stem the problem. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.  

In 2012—more than one thousand infants died before reaching their first birthday in Ohio. Maternal and infant health advocates say that a solution to the problem must include addressing the state’s premature birth rate and further educating expecting parents.  
 
With that in mind, and with the “lame duck” legislative session ongoing, the March of Dimes brought a group of health experts to the Statehouse to share the latest data and discuss their efforts in moving forward.  
 
Tavares: “This is not a sprint—this is a marathon and we’re going to win this race.”  
 
That’s Democratic Senator Charleta Tavares of Columbus, who teamed up with Republican Senator Shannon Jones of Springboro to address a group of health leaders in the Statehouse—reinforcing their support for legislation that can achieve these goals.  
 
In the past two years, the two lawmakers have introduced several bills to create a safe sleeping education program, encourage better records on sudden infant death reports, and establish a pilot program to improve birth outcomes.  
 
Jones says improving birth outcomes is vital for Ohio—a state that received a “C” on the March of Dimes Premature Birth report card.  
 
Jones: “I wish you had better news to share with us today on the state of Ohio but I think you can count on Charleta and I to do our very best to make sure we’re doing what we can in the state of Ohio to move that dial.”  
 
While lawmakers push for legislation on the state level—U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown is stumping for his own bill on Capitol Hill. His measure—which passed a Senate committee—would revamp the national reporting system that tracks still births.  
 
Brown: “We do everything possible to keep our children safe and healthy but these tragedies leave far too many families broken-hearted and without any explanation. No parent should ever have to grieve the loss of a child with no answers and no help.”  
 
Thomas Gilson is Cuyahoga County’s chief medical examiner. He says this bill can help gather better data for health experts to review. Gilson believes it will assist in pinpointing genetic issues and identifying access to prenatal care.  
 
Gilson: “You can never underestimate the ability to get good data to start to look at a problem. We obviously have a problem—it’s not a problem that’s led itself terribly over the years to a reduction but if we don’t continue to collect the data as this bill suggests—we’re just putting ourselves further downstream from a solution.”  
 
Back in Columbus—Lisa Holloway with the March of Dimes says one of the biggest problems in the discussion of infant mortality rates is the disparity among races. The rate for African Americans in Ohio is the worst in the country.  
 
Holloway: “Historically black women have the highest rates of premature birth followed by Native Americans, Hispanics and then Whites. The preterm birthrate among non-Hispanic black women is more than 1.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women the magnitude of this disparity has persisted unchanged for over a decade.”  
 
Ohio’s leaders say fixing this disparity is part of the larger issue of reducing the state’s infant mortality rate. Holloway believes that—instead of a quick fix—this crisis will be solved one step at a time.