Infant mortality rate tied to socioeconomic factors in state

Published 11:56 am Saturday, October 27, 2012

By The Greenwood Commonwealth:

Mississippi health professionals met recently in Jackson to discuss how the state can solve one of its most vexing problems: an infant mortality rate that is 50 percent higher than the national average.

Good luck to them. Hopefully their talks included an honest assessment of the situation, which is that a greater percentage of children under 1 year of age will be at risk as long as other socio-economic conditions are prevalent in the state.

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Officials blame several factors for Mississippi’s high infant mortality rate — 9.4 per 1,000 births, or almost 1 percent. They include premature births, low birth-weight, birth defects, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, maternal difficulties or accidents.

Premature births and low birth-weights are obvious points of discussion. Teenage pregnancies, and a disturbing tendency among some pregnant women not to seek prenatal care soon enough, clearly are among the largest contributors to these problems.

There may not be much that the medical community can do about this. Mississippi’s health care services, even in rural communities, are on par with similar settings in other states. The services are available, even for those who cannot afford it. The trick is to convince more women to use them.

Doctors and nurses can’t force pregnant women to come in for regular checkups, nor can they force them to avoid bad habits such as smoking, drinking or using drugs that have been proven to affect the development of a fetus.

Perhaps others can. Maybe the vibrant anti-abortion community in Mississippi could do more to encourage at-risk pregnant women to avoid unhealthy vices and to see a physician during their pregnancy. Maybe many of them already are quietly doing this, and just need to make a more public effort at it.

And, if low-income mothers make up a significant percentage of premature babies or low birth-weight babies, maybe community advocates for the poor can devise creative ways to coax pregnant women into better care. …

It may be that a higher percentage of these pregnancies are unplanned. But we suspect it also reflects Mississippi’s low educational standing. A lot of people in this state have not been taught to take care of themselves, and not just pregnant women.

Lessen that deficiency, and the infant mortality rate will come down, as will a whole lot of other rates in which Mississippi is abnormally high.