STATE’S INFANT MORTALITY RATE AT ALL-TIME LOW
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Saying the number of babies dying is still too high, Dr. Ed Thompson, the state’s public health officer, announced numbers Monday indicating Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is at its all-time lowest level.
“We are not going to sit back and say we are satisfied with what has been done,” Thompson said Monday at a news conference at the Mississippi Department of Health building.
Mississippi’s rate for 1995 is 10.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. This compares with a rate in 1994 of 10.9 and in 1993 of 11.4. An infant is considered any child under the age of 12 months. The latest national average available was 8.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1993.
Thompson said Mississippi probably is still last or near the bottom in terms of preventing the death of babies. But he said the state is making strides.
“This one-year drop is not statistically significant,” Thompson said. “But Mississippi’s infant mortality rate has declined for the past three years, and the decline over the past five years is statistically significant.”
Thompson credited the decrease, which started in the early 1970s at a gradual rate, to “improved prenatal care, improved nutrition, technology advancement and delivering babies at the appropriate facilities.”
He said more than half of all women in the state receive their prenatal care at health departments located in all 82 counties. He said the prenatal care available there and the nutrition programs available after the birth of the child, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children, are helping to reduce the infant death rate.
But more needs to be done, Thompson said.
He said there still are cases of women entering the prenatal care program late or not participating at all, thus jeopardizing their pregnancy. In the future, he said his office and others must make extra efforts to make women aware of the prenatal care program and the nutritional help available through such programs as WIC.
Thompson pointed out that 20 of the 435 infants deaths in the state in 1995 were the result of automobile accidents. Efforts must continue to make sure every infant has a car seat, Thompson said.
“It (infant mortality rate) will be too high as long as one baby dies” whose death could have been prevented, Thompson said as he used a pointer to outline the decline in Mississippi’s infant mortality rate on charts situated behind him.
Black, white numbers
One area where the infant mortality rate continues to be high is in the non-white, specifically African-American, population. For 1995, the non-white rate of 14.5 per 1,000 live births compared to 6.9 rate in the white community.
Nationwide, Thompson said the non-white rate is higher than the white rate of infant deaths. He said researchers still are not sure of all the reasons why the black infant mortality rate is higher.
While Mississippi’s white infant mortality rate is near the national average, Thompson said the black rate is one of the best in the nation. Still, Mississippi’s large black population bumps its overall infant mortality rate to one of the nation’s highest.
Overall, though, Thompson said the state is making progress.
Surrounded by a bike, soccer ball and trumpet, Thompson attempted to put faces with the numbers he was talking about. The drop in Mississippi’s infant mortality rate from 22.5 in 1975 to 10.5 in 1995 means that 2,200 additional babies have lived who are now between the ages of 10 and 20.
“Had we not done anything, those babies would have died,” Thompson said. “You don’t know if that child is not one who is riding this bicycle, kicking this ball or playing this horn in the high school or college band.”
Mississippi historically has had a high infant mortality rate. In 1960, it was 41.5 deaths per 1,000 live births; in 1930, it was 68.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. One of every 10 Mississippi infants died before his or her first birthday in the early 1900s.