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Joint Center Says New Approach Required to Reduce Black Infant Mortality

Think-Tank's Commission Details Recommendations to Curtail Infant Deaths

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The higher infant mortality rate among African Americans is "a new civil rights issue" and requires a revised set of approaches and remedies, according to a commission sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

In a report released today, the Courage to Love: Infant Mortality Commission, which was established by the Joint Center's Health Policy Institute (HPI), noted that conventional remedies have failed to reduce infant deaths that are disproportionately affecting black families. It pointed to data showing that African Americans suffer infant deaths at more than double the rate of the white population in the U.S -- with 13.5 deaths per 1,000 births for blacks and 5.7 deaths per 1,000 births for whites.

The Commission, which is comprised of medical professionals and academics, said that to address what it called an "infant mortality crisis" in the African American community, more emphasis must be placed on the socioeconomic surroundings of black women, as well as expectant mothers' relationships with their babies, their babies' fathers and the communities where they live.

"The Commission determined that we need a new direction if we are going to better understand and address the infant mortality crisis in the black community," said Ralph Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center. "These recommendations reflect the need to address social determinants of health. African American women must be viewed as members of families, communities and larger social, economic and environmental systems that affect their psychological and physical health."

In one of its key recommendations, the Commission called for an education campaign to increase the rate of breastfeeding by African American women.

The Commission, chaired by Ronald David, M.D., M.Div., and Barbara Nelson, Ph.D., in collaboration with the UCLA School of Public Affairs, determined there is a link between the high infant mortality rate among African Americans and the fact that black women have the lowest rate of breastfeeding among ethnic groups. It concluded that breastfeeding should be actively encouraged in the black community through targeted education, training, awareness and support.

"For many years, the operating theory in the health community has been that the high incidence of infant deaths among African Americans is attributed to higher teen pregnancy rates, single motherhood, lower education levels, poverty and, most recently, genetic causes," said Dr. David. "However, we found that infant mortality for blacks remained high even when all these factors were controlled."

In addition, David noted that the genetic theory is weakened by research showing better birth outcomes among foreign-born black women.

The Commission also examined relationships between infant mortality and maternal nutrition, as well as infant mortality and resilience. Further, the commission analyzed the historical framework of policies and practices currently in place to reduce infant mortality, while looking at infant mortality in a global context.

The Commission concluded that research, policy, and practice must change direction to achieve measurable change and eradicate the infant mortality disparity.

Its work included publishing four papers that analyze critical issues related to infant mortality and make the case for this imperative:

-- Infant Mortality in the Global Village: Inequality Matters, by

Ronald David, M.D., M.Div.

-- Maternal Nutrition and Infant Mortality in the Context of

Relationality, by Michael C. Lu, M.D., M.P.H., and Jessica S. Lu,


-- African American Women and Breastfeeding, by Barbara L. Philipp,

M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.B.M., and Sheina Jean-Marie

-- Race, Stress, and Social Support: Addressing the Crisis in Black

Infant Mortality, by Fleda Mask Jackson, Ph.D.

"The Commission's work is poised to become the foundation for new approaches to addressing the infant mortality problem, and saving lives," said Gina Wood, deputy director of the Joint Center HPI. "Our experts call for a series of changes in policy, practice and research to achieve greater empowerment, equity and social justice for black women, children, families, and their communities."

Copies of the reports are available on the Joint Center's web site

SOURCE Joint Center
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