North Carolina Focused on Improving Infant Mortality Rate

Raleigh, NC

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate dipped by 1.4 percent in 2016 to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births, compared with the 2015 rate of 7.3 infant deaths. The infant death rate has essentially plateaued, although this slight decrease is encouraging. The state’s lowest infant rate was 7.0 in 2010.

State health experts are developing strategies to lower the rate and improve the health of mothers and their babies.

“We need to do more to address the true determinants of health, if we want to see improvements,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer. “Our goal is to lower the infant mortality rate for all babies in North Carolina and decrease disparities within our populations.” 

The rate is impacted by a wide range of factors, including tobacco use and substance use disorders, obesity, domestic violence, poverty, racism, education and access to pre-conception and prenatal healthcare.

A wide gap between birth outcomes for white women and African-American women has persisted in North Carolina for years. African-American infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants. In 2016, the rate for white infants was 5.0 per 1,000, slightly lower than the 2015 national rate for all infants of 5.9, while the rate for African-American infants in 2016 was 13.4 per 1,000. Similar disparities are also noted in birth outcomes between American Indian and white women. 

North Carolina’s strategy has expanded to further focus on the underlying determinants of health.

“It is essential that we increase statewide access to health and healthcare for women, especially in underserved populations,” said Dr. Kelly Kimple, chief of the Division of Public Health’s Women’s and Children’s Health Section. “When we improve the health of women throughout their lives, we will see an increase in the number of healthy mothers and babies.”

DHHS is implementing the five-year N.C. Perinatal Health Strategic Plan, which was launched in March 2016. The plan is designed by subject matter experts from across North Carolina and guided by a core group of leaders in perinatal health who meet regularly to evaluate results and plan next steps. A complete version of the plan is available here.

The death of a mother can severely compromise the wellbeing of her children. Reducing maternal mortality through improved quality and access to health care, especially high-quality obstetric services throughout pregnancy, and neonatal care afterward, will also help save the lives of mothers and children.

A committee of nine experts from across the state, focusing on maternal mortality, was formed in 2016. Together with specialty consultants, they are reviewing the causes of death among mothers, and how they might be prevented.

Maternal mortality data from 2014-15 is currently being used by the committee to develop strategies to prevent maternal deaths. While deaths due to pregnancy-related complications in North Carolina are below the national average, pregnancy-associated deaths in the United States from violence, including homicide and suicide, still make up the major cause of deaths for mothers in the first year after birth. 

“The committee’s goal is to review the deaths of mothers during the first year after birth and make recommendations to improve future outcomes and prevent tragic deaths,” added Kimple. 

The 2016 infant mortality data can be found at: www.schs.state.nc.us/data/vital/ims/2016

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