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Infant Mortality Rate Drops Overall, But Gaps Persist

There's some mixed news coming from a new report out of the Centers for Disease Control this week. According to the CDC, black and hispanic infants are twice more likely to die than Caucasian infants, which is huge disparity — especially since the overall rate of infant deaths is at an all time low. So we're making progress, but only in certain communities.

There was a drop in infant mortality for all race and ethnic groups, the largest being a 21 percent drop in Asian and Pacific Islander infants, but those reductions weren't enough to close the gap between races. From 2005 to 2014, according to the CDC, the infant mortality rate dropped to 6.86 infant deaths per 1,000 births to 5.82 deaths, which is about 15 percent. There was also a total 29 percent drop in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

But babies born to non-Hispanic black women were twice as likely to die than infants born to non-Hispanic white women. The other highest rates of infant mortality were among Puerto Rican infants, where 6.68 of 1,000 births died. The lowest rate among the Hispanic subgroups were Cuban infants, which saw 3.95 deaths for 1,000 births.

The new report means that infant mortality is down 70 percent since 1962, which is a sign that something is going right. But there's still more to be done, especially since the numbers are so high for minority groups.

In fact, although the United States's infant mortality rates are dropping, we still have some of the highest rates, globally. Dr. Paul Jarris, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes, told CNN,

In terms of preterm birth and infant mortality, the United States has the highest rates of any of the developed nations. Our rates are more similar to that of developing nations. So the message, from my point of view, is that we cannot be complacent.

There were 33 states and the District of Columbia that saw a decrease in infant mortality (others saw no significant decline). Those with the most impressive declines were: Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

The report doesn't go into how the states achieved their lowered rates, but it's likely that coordinated effort between the states' health departments, hospital networks, and Medicaid programs helped.

The causes of infant death, such as short gestation, maternal complications, low birthweight, and SIDS, all dropped. Although in many cases there's nothing that a mother or her health team can do to prevent these kinds of deaths, access to prenatal care, early screening for congenital diseases, and SIDS education is fundamental to efforts to continue to lower these rates.

The takeaway is that we're not at zero infant deaths yet, for any racial groups. But we can get that much closer to lower rates of infant mortality, and close that racial gap, with expanded access to healthcare for women and their infants.