S.C. infant mortality rate holds steady while racial divides in infant and maternal health remain

October 31, 2017 GMT

At 401, the number of South Carolina kids dying in their first year stayed steady in 2016 from the year before. But a racial divide, fueled by poor maternal health and ongoing public health challenges, signals work remains to be done, according to a new report by the state’s public health department.

An estimated seven infants, out of every 1,000 born, died before their first birthday in 2016, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control found. That average was the same the year before.

The “infant mortality rate” is considered an important community health measurement. It gauges how many babies are expected to survive in their first year of life.

The rate is accepted as a key public health metric. It is not a simple number to bring down. Risk factors span medical conditions as well as social and environmental factors, such as exposure to smoke and domestic violence.

The state’s rate of infant mortality has declined over the years. The worst infant mortality rates in the world are in African countries, reaching almost 90 in the Central African Republic, according to The World Bank. Still, South Carolina’s rate remains among the highest in the country — Mississippi had the worst rate in 2015, at 9.3.

“To continue to make progress, we must continue our collaborative work across sectors to improve the systems that support women and their families before, during and after pregnancy,” Dr. Lilian Peake, DHEC’s director of public health, said in a statement.

There were 401 infant deaths in 2016, compared to 405 the year before.

The declining rate overall does not reflect the problem of a persistently high rate of infant mortality for minority babies. There is inequality between the health of black and white babies, the Post and Courier reported this summer. Infant mortality rates among minority babies was almost twice that of white babies in 2016 — 10 and 5.5, respectively.

Minority infants in this state died at a rate of 10 per 1,000 born in 2016. That number is a slight decrease from the previous year, but still is almost double the 5.5 rate for white babies. DHEC argues the gap between whites and minorities is improving.

Minority mothers gave birth to babies with a very low weight at almost twice the rate as white moms. The same disparity held true for very premature births.

But there were improvements in a number of key areas. The number of teens giving birth dropped by 129 mothers, to 981. The number of women smoking tobacco while pregnant dropped as well.

The most common single cause of death were defects present before the baby’s birth. The second most likely killer was too-short gestation and low birthweight.

Increasing numbers of women in South Carolina are giving birth never having received prenatal care. More than 860 pregnant women gave birth without it in 2016, compared to 579 women in 2013, the Post and Courier reported in mid-October.