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

Cases: 443009

Reported Deaths: 6662
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson649101007
Mobile31746574
Madison28413217
Tuscaloosa21566275
Montgomery20088332
Shelby19452132
Baldwin17333189
Lee13261107
Morgan12678142
Etowah12141181
Calhoun11555206
Marshall10487123
Houston9031164
Limestone838181
Cullman8296124
Elmore8243110
Lauderdale7946107
DeKalb7900107
St. Clair7876130
Talladega6523112
Walker6050183
Jackson603245
Colbert558194
Blount548586
Autauga540762
Coffee466964
Dale412785
Franklin377550
Russell358415
Chilton346873
Covington340880
Escambia339244
Tallapoosa3163109
Dallas313696
Chambers305470
Clarke303336
Pike265231
Lawrence255855
Marion254661
Winston234742
Bibb222948
Geneva213047
Marengo210531
Pickens200431
Hale186144
Barbour183438
Fayette178829
Butler174860
Cherokee166031
Henry160025
Monroe152621
Randolph146636
Washington142727
Clay130746
Crenshaw124845
Macon122837
Cleburne122125
Lamar120622
Lowndes116836
Wilcox108322
Bullock104628
Perry100518
Conecuh98022
Sumter90627
Greene77923
Coosa64018
Choctaw52124
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 710427

Reported Deaths: 8970
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby790251186
Davidson73248697
Knox40335452
Hamilton35983347
Rutherford34271298
Unassigned23946140
Williamson22259150
Sumner18862237
Out of TN1644883
Montgomery15200153
Wilson14878167
Sullivan13002221
Blount12382136
Washington12206206
Maury11337131
Bradley11263101
Sevier10877123
Putnam10200152
Madison9364186
Robertson793088
Hamblen7261119
Anderson7031116
Greene6779117
Tipton639571
Coffee578584
Gibson5767117
Dickson559082
Cumberland556777
Bedford546092
Roane536083
McMinn524674
Lawrence524369
Carter5215121
Warren511656
Loudon510352
Jefferson497078
Dyer487487
Monroe471964
Hawkins461473
Franklin426067
Fayette415953
Obion406683
Rhea391858
Lincoln388347
Cocke359063
Marshall358140
Cheatham350332
Weakley345948
Campbell338742
Henderson338659
Giles334476
Carroll318362
White317749
Hardeman315854
Hardin306650
Lauderdale299934
Macon294751
Wayne270325
Henry269960
Overton260546
McNairy249042
DeKalb247443
Haywood245650
Marion236233
Smith235430
Trousdale230617
Scott230432
Claiborne230033
Hickman229836
Fentress217835
Grainger217240
Johnson205335
Morgan196616
Crockett183738
Chester179039
Bledsoe178211
Unicoi170147
Cannon161721
Lake158522
Polk150517
Decatur149027
Union145725
Grundy143622
Sequatchie142120
Humphreys137717
Benton134135
Lewis131121
Meigs119216
Stewart112220
Jackson106624
Clay96526
Perry96325
Houston95226
Moore8319
Pickett69220
Van Buren6758
Hancock4227

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