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Eagle editorial: Reduce infant deaths

  • Published Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, at 12 a.m.

It is encouraging that Kansas’ infant-mortality rate has dropped to a new low, though the rate is still much too high among African-Americans and in Sedgwick County.

The number of infant deaths to Kansas residents was 247 out of 39,628 births in 2011, for a mortality rate of 6.2 per 1,000 live births, according to new data released by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The 6.2 rate is slightly lower than the 6.3 rate in 2010 and is the lowest infant-mortality rate in Kansas since record keeping began in 1912 (when the rate was 73.5).

The 2011 data is not yet available from all 50 states, so we don’t know how Kansas compares nationally. But in past years Kansas has had a mortality rate that is higher than the national average.

In 2009, for example, Kansas ranked 10th worst in the country in infant mortality and had the worst rate in the nation for African-American infant mortality.

Kansas’ infant-mortality rate for African-Americans remains high, at 12.9 per 1,000 births in 2011. The rate was 5.3 for whites and 6.7 for Hispanics.

Sedgwick County also has had an infant-mortality rate significantly higher than the state average. From 2006 to 2010, the Sedgwick County rate was 7.8 per 1,000.

Two ZIP codes in northeast and southeast Wichita had among the highest mortality rates in the state from 2006 to 2010: 67218 had a 12.7 rate, and 67214 had a 12.4 rate. (ZIP code 67212 in northwest Wichita had the lowest rate in the state at 3.6.)

The majority of infant deaths are related to congenital anomalies (such as malformations of the circulatory system). Low birth weight (62.5 percent of infant deaths) or prematurity (62.2 percent) were primary risk factors, particularly among African-Americans and Hispanics.

Income and education level play a significant role in the disparity of mortality rates between races, but those aren’t the only factors. For example, college-educated, career-oriented African-American mothers have higher infant-mortality rates than comparable white women.

To its credit, the state formed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality in 2009 to gather data and make recommendations. The Medical Society of Sedgwick County also has an infant mortality task force, and Sedgwick County is the only county in the state doing in-person reviews of mothers to try to determine community-level factors associated with fetal or infant deaths.

Lowering the rate can be a challenge, particularly if it involves altering behaviors, such as not smoking during pregnancy or reducing teen pregnancies (which have a 57 percent higher infant-mortality rate than pregnancies of women 20 and older).

But Kansas and especially Sedgwick County can’t be satisfied with the decline in mortality rates. They must do better.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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