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Indiana Infant Mortality Summit shines a light on longstanding problem

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The inaugural Indiana Infant Mortality Summit was held in Indianapolis, bringing together health care providers, policy makers, public health professionals, faith-based and community leaders and others to draw attention to an issue that has been identified as the Indiana State Department of Health’s top priority.

The death of a baby before his or her first birthday is called infant mortality. The infant mortality rate is an estimate of the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. This rate is often used as an indicator to measure the health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also impact the mortality rate of infants.

“Shortly after I was appointed Health Commissioner, the leadership team at the State Health Department came together to identify our state’s most urgent public health issues,” said State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D. “Infant mortality quickly rose to the top of that list. I was surprised to learn that Indiana has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation and I believe many Hoosiers may be unaware of this, as I was.”

In 2010, Indiana ranked 45th among states for infant mortality, with a rate of 7.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The national rate was 6.1 in the same year. In 2011, Indiana’s rate was 7.7 infant deaths, while the preliminary U.S. rate was 6.05.

The top five causes of infant mortality in the United States are:

  • Serious birth defects
  • Baby born too small and too early (preterm, low birthweight)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Baby affected by maternal complications
  • Baby is the victim of injuries (e.g., suffocation deaths)

Access to health care, lack of prenatal care, tobacco use, limited physical activity and diet and nutrition are factors that can contribute to negative pregnancy and birth outcomes, which can lead to increased infant mortality.

“We lost 643 of our children before their first birthday in 2011,” said Dr. VanNess. “That’s why we are all here at this important gathering today—for the children we’ve lost, their families and for our future children.”

The Summit included special guest speaker Gov. Pence, who stressed the importance of protecting Indiana’s children and expressed his appreciation for Indiana’s experts coming together to work on this critical initiative.

Keynote speaker, David Lakey, M.D., Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, is a native Hoosier from Anderson. He discussed what Texas has done to reduce infant mortality and lessons learned. Texas experienced a significant decline in infant mortality deaths from 2005-2010, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The State Health Department, with support of partners, plans to rollout a statewide public education campaign in 2014 and is working closely with Indiana hospitals and others on issues such as hospital care, high risk pregnancy and prenatal care coordination, and the importance of carrying babies through 39 weeks of pregnancy.

The 2013 Indiana Infant Mortality Summit was made possible by the support of the following sponsors: March of Dimes, the Indiana Tobacco Quitline, St. Vincent Women’s Hospital, Indiana Youth Institute, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, The Women’s Hospital (part of Deaconess Health System), Covering Kids & Families, the Marion County Public Health Department and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

For more information, visit the Indiana State Department of Health at StateHealth.IN.gov.

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