A somber, and urgent matter regarding Black Americana comes by way of a report that addresses the unusually high infant mortality rates among African Americans. The NYT’s distressing story states that in the US, Black infants are more than twice as likely to pass away before age 1 than White babies, and reveals that Pittsburgh has a rate that is 5 times worse than the national average.
The story opens with an introduction to Pittsburgh resident, 20-year old Amanda Ralph, who is seven months pregnant. Statistically speaking the NTY suggests Ralph is part of the demographic affected by the disproportionate mortality rate: She is young, poor and dropped out of school after the ninth grade.
Fortunately for Amanda Ralph receives special medical assistance as part of a federally financed program designed to combat this morbid anomaly. The Times reports that Ralph is the recipient of a number of nationwide efforts to reduce infant mortality, which currently are under threat by “a combination of apathy and cuts to federal and state programs.”
The article states that the private nature of infant death makes it a “quiet crisis,” which may explain the lack of high profile campaigns that champion issues such as autism or postpartum depression.
A global view shows the stark disparity. According to the CIA, The nation’s current mark — 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births — ranks 46th in the world among infant deaths. However, the rate of African American infant mortality is 13.3 deaths per 1,000 – which is almost double the national average and higher than Sri Lanka’s. There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.
With the rates in Pittsburgh being 5 times the national average, certain health officials recognize it as a full-blown crisis. Dr. Garth Graham, a deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services said, “It is truly one of the most challenging issues, because it is multifactorial… And nationally, the disparity has remained despite our best efforts.”
“We have one of the top schools of public health and one of the top schools of medicine, yet the problem is hidden,” said Angela F. Ford, executive director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health. Researchers have found that poverty, education, access to prenatal care, smoking and even low birth weight do not alone explain the racial gap in infant mortality. Even Black women with graduate degrees are more likely to lose a child in its first year than are white women who did not finish high school, the Times reports. Research is now focusing on stress as a factor and whether black women have shorter birth canals.
Wilford Payne, who operates 11 community health centers in Pittsburgh, offers a blunt explanation for the disproportion, “It wasn’t affecting whites, so no one really cared because they didn’t know about it.” Allegedly fears of mistreatment are thought to keep women from seeking out adequate prenatal care. Once a Healthy Start client when she became pregnant at 17, Dannai Harriel who is now 34 admitted, “People who need the services are the ones least likely to get them.”
The chart below, illustrates just how critical the infant mortality rate is in the United States:
Head over the NYT for the full report, “Tackling Infant Mortality Rates Among Blacks”