CINCINNATI — An expert says a conference in Cincinnati Wednesday was looking at racism as the reason for a much greater infant mortality rate among African-Americans than whites.
"What we do know and what we're concentrating on this conference is really looking at racism," said Stacy Scott, PhD and co-chair of the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality.
Health officials recognize there's a big problem when three out of every four babies who die prematurely are African-American.
At the Ohio Infant Mortality Summit Wednesday at the Duke Energy Center, there was heavy focus on newly released state numbers.
There was a slight decline in Ohio's infant mortality rate from 7.4 per 1,000 live births in 2016 to 7.2 in 2017. But the number of black infant deaths increased from 15.2 to 15.6.
"It decreased in the white population, but in the African-American it increased," Scott said.
The underlying problem isn't easy to accept or fix, others said.
"I wish I could say I'm surprised,” said Ryan Adcock, executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, said about the numbers. “But,we think about the number of things that have to change about our society in order for us to start seeing more equal outcomes, and, it's going to be a very, very hard thing to do."
Cradle Cincinnati is one of nine agencies in Ohio set up as Ohio Equity Institutes to address the disparities.
Last July, Cradle Cincinnati unveiled a $25 million plan to reduce infant deaths in Hamilton County. Hamilton County’s 2017 infant mortality rate was 9 deaths per 1,000 live births - one of the worst in the country and far higher than the national average of 5.9 deaths.
"We can't just think about this as an issue for doctors to solve,” Adcock said. “We have to think about it as what do we do in school settings? What do we do during church settings? What do we do in workplace settings?"
The leading causes of infant death in Hamilton County are preterm birth, birth defects and unsafe sleeping conditions.
In Ohio, there’s a new effort being launched to identify mothers directly in hopes of helping them have healthy babies.
Sandra Oxley, chief of Maternal Child & Family Health in Ohio Department of Health, said it involves making close contact with at-risk mothers.
“Individuals on the street, in those communities, identifying pregnant women, building that rapport, helping us establish trust,” Oxley said.
Some new efforts started this fall and state health officials are hoping they will show an impact when new numbers are released next year.