Protecting babies of all races in Ohio

During 2019, the number of white infants who died in Ohio was the lowest in a decade. The number of Black infants who perished that year was higher than in 2018.

That is a tragedy. It is unacceptable.

Health care and public policy officials in Ohio have struggled for years to reduce infant mortality. Their success in many respects has been gratifying — but racial disparities persist.

Sadly, it is impossible to prevent the deaths of some children before they reach their first birthdays. One reason is congenital anomalies, which were responsible for nearly one in five infant deaths last year.

But death from some other causes can be prevented. Last year, 12 percent of infant deaths in Ohio were due to external injuries. Another 29 percent were because of conditions such as low birth weight that often can be handled effectively, if mothers are reached in time.

At the local and state levels, health care professionals in Ohio hope to decrease the infant mortality rate among all races to six or fewer per 1,000 live births. Last year, the rate was 6.9 per 1,000.

But the rate at which Black infants die remains 2.8 times as high as that for whites. Why? What can be done about it?

In December, Gov. Mike DeWine reacted decisively to the numbers. He established the Eliminating Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality Task Force to identify what can be done to save more Black babies. “Race and ZIP code should never dictate your health outcomes,” the governor remarked.

To their credit, Buckeye State officials have been concerned about the racial disparity in infant deaths for years. They have been unable to come up with solutions, however. Let us hope that during the new year, new approaches, perhaps through DeWine’s task force, can be found to protect more babies of all races.


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