Infant deaths cripple Milwaukee

The infant mortality rates for blacks in Milwaukee and Wisconsin were worse than the overall infant mortality rates of 35 countries in 2005, including developing nations Cuba, Chile, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, according to a report released last week by the Fetal Infant Mortality Review.

The report said 807 infant and fetal deaths occurred from 2005-08 in Milwaukee. Of those deaths, 499 were premature and 308 were stillbirths. Other causes included accidental suffocation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The FIMR also showed that 687 of the 807 deaths involved infants of minority—a figure three times greater than that found among Caucasians.

Not only is Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate an issue for the Health Department, but also for the city’s economic struggles.

The average cost for a normal full-time delivery is $3,325 while the cost for a premature birth is $51,600, according to a report by the March of Dimes, an organization that works to prevent premature births. With 4,851 premature live born infants from 2005-08, the total cost for the city would have been around $250 million.

Bevan K. Baker, Milwaukee Commissioner of Health, stated within the report that unemployment, poverty and high school graduation rates play a large role in the issue. He also said socioeconomic factors within individual neighborhoods are problematic.

“We must — as a community — simultaneously improve access to healthcare, improve health behaviors and improve the socioeconomic determinants of healthy births,” Baker said in the statement.

Quinton Cotton, a lecturer of social and cultural sciences, agreed that socioeconomic factors are a driving force of the problem. He said the stresses of everyday life impact even the most educated and healthy women.

“There is something that causes wear and tear on the body over time,” he said. “One way that impact is expressed is through the birth outcome. White teenage moms have healthier birth outcomes than African-American adult females who have dealt with stress and possible racism.”

As a staff member of The Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF), a project aimed at closing the gap between black and white birth outcomes in Milwaukee, Cotton said the project helps mobilize neighborhoods to develop strategies to lower the rate.

“The solution comes from within the community and political will,” Cotton said. “We teach the communities to be thoughtful … Think, ‘What is missing from our community? What are our assets?’”

Also working to lower the infant mortality rate is the FIMR Case Action Team. The team aims to improve the access and quality of women’s healthcare, improve screening and treatment for maternal infections and help women and their families quit smoking, according to the report.

In support of FIMR and its team, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced the City of Milwaukee Health Department will host its second infant mortality rate summit on May 11. The event will focus on prematurity and provide hospitals with information on how to reduce the risk of premature births, according to the press release.

“Although we have already taken action in addressing parts of this complex problem, it is evident that much more needs to be done,” Barrett said in the press release. “This is everyone’s responsibility, and working collectively and collaboratively is essential to protect the most vulnerable among us.”