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Health and Medicine

Canton tries to figure out the role of racism in infant deaths
The city and Ohio launch a three-year effort to study why Ohio's infant mortality rate is among the worst in the nation

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
Canton Health Commissioner Jim Adams says the study of infant mortality will range from institutional racism to person-to-person support.
Courtesy of Canton Health Department
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In The Region:

Ohio is now 48th in the nation in infant mortality, 49th when it comes in African-American babies.  And a new national, state and local effort to change that is underway. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with Canton Health Commissioner Jim Adams about the effort to inventory programs now in place and see where they can go in the next three years.

LISTEN: A Q and A with Jim Adams

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By city standards, it’s a pretty small investment. By health officials’ measures, it’s potentially huge.

Canton City Council OK’d a $20,000 contract with a national group to work with a local group to figure out why so many babies – especially in Ohio’s urban areas – are dying. The Ohio rate is 7.7 deaths for every 1,000  births. And Jim Adams says there’s a lot of human pain in those numbers.

The really sad part about the rates is that while, generally national rates are improving, in Ohio that trend is actually getting worse. … But the real tragedy of the story is the disparity of birth outcomes between white children and African-American children. In Stark County, African-American babies are dying at a rate almost three times more often than white babies.”

Big issues and closer to home
He says the reasons may include the obvious: poverty, education, health care. But the focus of the project is to dig deeper to potential root causes within the Stark community.

“There are some suggestions that unless a community really examines the role that racism plays in their community in setting up these biases that we’re never really going to improve these rates.”

Adams acknowledges that three years in a health study is not very long. But three years in a mother and child’s life is huge. So the community is trying to address short-term, as well as long-term solutions.

“We’re going to be challenged to look at things like poverty, jobs, economics. … But we’re going to have to start doing something (before the end of the study) if we’re going to make some long-term, lasting improvement in the community.”

That includes supporting projects such as “centering pregnancy,” in which a group of women schedule their prenatal visits together and will likely continue their informal support group after their children are born.

The state of Ohio has set up the Ohio Equity Institute to work with nine urban areas to reduce infant mortality. The contract Canton council approved with the National Organization for Urban Maternal and Child Health Leaders, which will provide training and consultation  for the project.

Adams notes that the only state with a worse mortality rate than Ohio for African-American babies is Indiana.

Listener Comments:

I live in Canton and was appalled at the statistics quoted by our Health Commissioner. How in the world are we living in the 21st century and still seeing this shocking disparity in the mortality rates between african american babies and white babies? On this day as we are remember Dr. Martin Luther King's"I Have a Dream" speech we realize that this country still has a long way to go to reach the dream of equality for all of it's citizens.

Posted by: Anne DeGraffinreed (Canton Ohio) on August 29, 2013 12:08PM
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