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March of Dimes Works to Eliminate Racial Gaps in Infant Health

February is Black History Month

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In recognition of Black History Month, the March of Dimes is drawing attention to the tremendous gap in premature birth and infant mortality rates that disproportionately affect black women in the United States and to the programs and research designed to reduce -- and one day eliminate -- these disparities.

Black women have the highest premature birth and infant mortality rates of all racial groups. The preterm birth rate for black women averaged 17.6 percent, compared to the national average of 12.3 between 2002 and 2004. Infant mortality rates for blacks averaged 13.5 percent compared to the national average of 6.9 between 2002 and 2004.

"The March of Dimes is working to assure that all babies have an equal opportunity for a healthy start in life," said Dr. Diane Ashton, deputy medical director at the March of Dimes. "To achieve this goal, we need help to spread the word, to educate, and to call for resources and programs that can make a difference for the health of our black communities and for the nation as a whole."

To address disparities in infant health outcomes, the March of Dimes works with community-based organizations to provide public health-focused services, distribute maternal and infant health information and support scientific research.

Beginning this month, the March of Dimes is partnering with the federal Office of Minority Health Resource Center to support the "A Healthy Baby Begins with You" program, an educational campaign to raise awareness about the high infant mortality rates in the African-American population. Select March of Dimes chapters will participate in health fairs, distributing information women need before they become pregnant to help them have a healthy baby. Tonya Lewis Lee, author, producer and wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, is the campaign spokesperson, and members of Behind the Bench, the National Basketball Wives Association, also will act as spokespersons for the campaign.

The March of Dimes has a long history of working within communities to address health problems. For nearly 30 years, the March of Dimes has partnered with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta sorority. March of Dimes chapters have worked with Alpha Phi Alpha to implement Project Alpha(R) events and in 2006, the program provided information about teen pregnancy prevention to more than 4,500 young men.

In collaboration with Zeta Phi Beta, the March of Dimes began offering annual Prematurity Awareness Weekends to 100,000 people at more than 150 churches. And, in 2006, the sorority and the March of Dimes operated 390 Stork's Nest(R) programs reaching 20,500 underserved and predominantly black women. Launched in 1972, the Stork's Nest programs provides expectant mothers with prenatal care education, maternity and infant clothes and furniture at low or no cost.

The March of Dimes has committed more than $11 million to its Prematurity Research Initiative grant program, which supports research to identify factors that may help explain why black women have a higher rate of premature birth. One example is ongoing research by Dr. Jerome F. Strauss III, dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, which has linked certain genetic variations in the production and breakdown of the protein collagen with preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPROM). This research may help to identify factors that contribute to the disparity between black and white premature birth rates and ultimately lead to clinical interventions that successfully achieve health equity. PPROM is the leading identifiable cause of preterm birth.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babiessm, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies. For the latest resources and information, visit or

SOURCE March of Dimes
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