Miss. infant mortality rate rises

Published 7:14 pm Friday, January 12, 2007

More Mississippi babies are dying today than at any time since 1993.

Mississippi, which already had the nation’s highest infant mortality rate, saw an increase in deaths from 417 in 2004 to 481 in 2005.

With a rate of 11.4, nearly twice as many babies die in Mississippi as they do elsewhere. The national average is 6.8, and the state with the next highest infant death rate is Louisiana at 9.7, according to the National Vital Statistics Report.

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According to state Department of Health statistics, most of the increase in infant deaths came among the nonwhite population, the rate increasing from 14.2 to 17; the number of deaths rose from 273 to 328. The rate for white infants rose from 6.1 to 6.6; the number of deaths increased from 144 to 153.

The rate is computed from the number of deaths of children under 1 year of age divided by the number of live births and then multiplied by 1,000, according to the Health Department.

The Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Jackson reported Thursday that infant mortality figures had not been released publicly by the Health Department. The newspaper said it had requested the figures.

State Health Officer Brian Amy told the newspaper that he didn’t have the figures in front of him and would be happy to discuss the matter at a later time.

Arkansas and Louisiana saw their rates fall in 2005, but Alabama saw an increase from 8.7 to 9.3 — its highest rate since 2001.

“We do not fully understand these very troubling rates,” Alabama State Health Officer Donald Williamson said in a statement. “Infant mortality is heading in the wrong direction, and not for reasons we would usually ascribe, such as teen pregnancy. The babies of adult women are dying, and we will explore the reasons and develop ideas to help lower infant deaths.”

Tennessee, which saw an increase in provisional figures from 8.5 to 9.0, produced a special report on infant mortality, pointing out its death rate for African-American babies (17.4) is nearly three times that of white babies (6.4).

Tennessee health officials have set a goal to reduce the state’s infant mortality rate to 7 by the year 2010.