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Alabama health leaders want more to help reduce state's infant death rate

Hundreds of babies die every year before their first birthday. Could their survival depend on what they look like?

Posted: Nov 7, 2019 3:12 PM
Updated: Nov 8, 2019 9:41 AM

Hundreds of babies die every year before their first birthday. Could their survival depend on what they look like?

WAAY 31 is digging deeper into the staggering statistics in our state's racial divide when it comes to Alabama's infant death rate.

"We have been dating since we are 15 and 16 years old," said Kyra Zewe. "We were really excited to find out that we are pregnant."

Like many young couples, Kyra and Adam Zewe dreamed of one day starting a family. Kyra described a smooth pregnancy, having no issues until the day after a checkup at 38 weeks.

"The next morning, I woke up and I felt the baby kick," she recalled. "(And) then, a few hours went by and I didn't feel the baby kick."

In an instant, without explanation, their baby was gone. Kyra and Adam were given just a short time to hold their first born, Jack.

"Driving home with an empty car seat, it was just it was very difficult and we still think about him every single day."

The Zewes are just one of many families to experience the pain of losing an infant child. 

"Unfortunately, Alabama tends to rank towards the bottom. On any given year, we are either 49th or 50th with our infant mortality," said Lisa Carter, an Alabama Department of Public Health regional perinatal coordinator.

She said the problem only intensifies when you look at racial disparity in Alabama's infant death rates. Records show black or minority infants die at nearly twice the rate of white babies.

"When we look at racial disparities, many times we're looking at insurance, medicaid births, access to care issues that come into play. Unfortunately, for some of those populations of individuals, they don't have that kind of access or support system in place."

In 2017, the black infant mortality rate in Alabama was 11.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, more than double the rate for white infants, which was 5.5.

"We have to wonder why we are so high," stated Dr. Wes Stubblefield, who serves as the medical director for the Northwest Region of Alabama Coordinated Health Network for Medicaid. "Of course, there's many reasons for that. It can be long standing racism, it can be economic divide, it can be all of those things, but that is unacceptable for children."

He said state agencies are beginning to look at race and equality for addressing statewide issues, but it will take a combined effort to really tackle the issue of infant mortality.

"We need to seriously consider how we take care of the people in our state, and specifically, how we take care of some of the most vulnerable people in our state," Stubblefield said.

He says it warrants another look at expanding medicaid.

"It's been shown by research that states that have expanded medicaid, their infant mortality rates have gone down, compared to states that have not," he said.

In Alabama, 435 babies died in 2017, putting Alabama well above the national average when it comes to infant death.

"One of the things the World Health Organization (WHO) looks at is, our infant mortality rate is a direct reflection of the general health of our population," said Carter.

If Alabama wants to make a change, medical leaders say communities need our legislators to get on board.

Just last year, Gov. Kay Ivey instituted an infant mortality reduction initiative, pledging a million dollars over five years to address issues related to infant mortality in the three counties in central Alabama with the highest infant death rates.

"It goes back to the fact that it's not just about putting money into systems, although that helps," Carter explained.

"I just wonder how many of those infant deaths could be avoided," said Zewe.

Organizations like the March of Dimes have stepped in to do what they can to research this ongoing problem, helping families like the Zewes move forward in their healing process.

"Since then, we have been blessed with two more boys and they're happy and they're healthy, and even though they don't replace our first baby boy that we had, they definitely make our wound a lot smaller."

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 38442

Reported Deaths: 947
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4387142
Montgomery383999
Mobile3697134
Tuscaloosa204938
Marshall153710
Lee118937
Shelby108223
Madison10577
Morgan9813
Walker86723
Franklin85213
Dallas8198
Elmore81314
Baldwin6869
Etowah62513
Butler60427
DeKalb6025
Chambers58127
Tallapoosa56369
Autauga54511
Unassigned52025
Russell4840
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4446
Houston4344
Limestone4090
Cullman4003
Pike3995
Colbert3685
Bullock3629
Coffee3532
Barbour3231
Covington3087
St. Clair3042
Hale29321
Marengo28611
Wilcox2808
Sumter27612
Calhoun2705
Talladega2677
Clarke2665
Escambia2636
Dale2440
Jackson2382
Winston2333
Blount2141
Chilton2112
Pickens2116
Marion20312
Monroe1972
Choctaw19212
Conecuh1804
Bibb1711
Macon1708
Randolph1709
Greene1667
Perry1451
Henry1303
Crenshaw1233
Lawrence1010
Washington1007
Cherokee747
Lamar711
Fayette671
Geneva670
Clay582
Coosa551
Cleburne291
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45315

Reported Deaths: 609
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby10344193
Davidson9769114
Rutherford264835
Hamilton253230
Trousdale14895
Sumner146952
Williamson109014
Out of TN10447
Knox9825
Wilson82917
Putnam8057
Robertson79211
Lake6900
Sevier6573
Bledsoe6181
Tipton6114
Bradley5803
Bedford5205
Montgomery4937
Unassigned4251
Macon4093
Hardeman3041
Maury2973
Fayette2922
Rhea2720
Loudon2651
Hamblen2634
Madison2552
Dyer2251
McMinn21617
Cheatham2141
Blount1883
Dickson1800
Cumberland1733
Monroe1354
Washington1340
Lawrence1335
Lauderdale1202
Coffee1090
Jefferson1070
Gibson1061
Anderson1042
Hardin1005
Obion982
Smith961
Sullivan912
Greene852
Franklin803
Wayne770
Haywood742
Marshall731
Hickman720
Cocke700
Marion674
Warren650
White643
McNairy620
Weakley611
Lincoln590
Grundy581
Overton571
Carter561
DeKalb540
Unicoi540
Hawkins512
Giles501
Roane460
Henry420
Polk410
Campbell391
Carroll391
Grainger370
Johnson370
Henderson350
Meigs320
Perry320
Cannon310
Crockett313
Claiborne280
Sequatchie280
Jackson260
Morgan241
Chester230
Humphreys231
Decatur210
Stewart210
Fentress180
Clay160
Scott150
Union130
Benton121
Houston120
Moore80
Lewis70
Van Buren70
Pickett60
Hancock30

 

 

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