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Why Do African-American Infants Die More Often Than Others In Fresno County?

Jul 15, 2015

  African-American infants in Fresno County are three times more likely to die within their first year than white infants, largely because of premature birth, low birth weight or birth defects.

The alarming rates of African-American infants dying in their first year in the county are prompting public health officials to dig deeper.

“Over the last few years ever since 2008 Fresno has experienced a dramatic growth in infant mortality rates particularly for African-American women,” says Dr. John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute.

In an effort to understand the uptick, the Central Valley Health Policy Institute conducted a six-month research effort trying to determine what factors contribute to infant mortality and pre-term births.

While there are more Hispanic infants dying in Fresno County, the rate of African-American infant deaths per 1,000 live births is the troubling figure. According to the latest numbers from 2013, African-American babies died at a rate of 25.3 per 1,000 live births. At the same time, Hispanic infants died at a rate of 9.0 ,white infants died at a rate of 8.1, and Asian infants at 7.8.

In 2013, the African-American infant mortality rate increased to 10.6 per 1,000 live births in California.

In the last few months,  the Central Valley Health Policy Institute interviewed local African-American women, providers and social workers. The Institute is presenting their preliminary findings today to the First 5 Fresno County Commission, which supported the research through a grant.

“Young African-American women often find themselves without living situations that support being calm in their pregnancies, they face challenges in their neighborhood, they face challenges about jobs,  economic security and they find that when they do get pregnant that the care system is hard for them to navigate,” Capitman says.

The following are some of the key preliminary findings:

  • Mothers experienced high level of social isolation and stress resulting in hypertension, hospitalization, pre-term birth and loss of a child.
  • Mothers lack social support, felt as if community was a source of judgment.
  • When seeking health care, expectant mothers often experienced a lack of accessible and culturally appropriate health care services.
  • Women lacked access to preventive care and health information.
  • Providers indicate lack of transportation and coordination of care as main barrier to women’s health.
  • Income, access to care and health care coverage are predictive of infant mortality.
  • Women enrolled in Medi-Cal benefits are at nearly 50% higher risk for pre-term births than those privately insured.

The Central Valley Health Policy Institute is giving recommendations to First 5 Fresno County today with the hope of reducing the high rates of black infant mortality and pre-term births. The public is invited to attend a community meeting on this issue August 11, 6 p.m. at Gaston Middle School in Fresno.