Washtenaw County's data shows African-American babies are at least three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. That's according to data from the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Washtenaw County’s rate for African-American infant deaths is among the highest in the state, and it also has one of the widest statewide gaps between white and black infant mortality rates.
The rate for white infant deaths is among the lowest in the state and going down.
Prematurity and low-birth weight is the overwhelming cause of these deaths.
Kelly Stupple is a Child Health Advocate at the Washtenaw County Public Health Department. She says the differences infant mortality rates are linked to race more than the mother’s income level or age:
"Most people think that this is an income related issue and low income women are more likely to have pre-term and low birth weight babies. However, even in the upper income black women are still more likely to have low birth weight and pre- term babies. So, fighting racism is one of the things that Washtenaw as a community can do to help change this."
Large studies going back at least 10 years demonstrate that poor health outcomes linked to race are not explained by biology, socio-economic status or access to care alone.
Dr. Alan Nelson wrote about this in the Journal of the National Medical Association.
This leaves public health officials with a working theory that many subtle and more obvious forms of different treatment inside and outside of the health system contribute to negative health outcomes for non-whites.
Rate trends higher in older mothers
In Washtenaw County, the typical black mother losing a child is aged between her upper 20’s and low 30’s and it is her third or fourth child, but infant mortality in the nation as a whole usually impacts the first children of very young teen mothers.
The County Public Health Department cannot yet explain why the county differs from the national trend.
Washtenaw County is beginning a campaign to tackle this issue.
The 3X More Likely campaign is aimed at increasing the general public’s knowledge about infant mortality in Washtenaw’s black community.
The campaign also has a peer education component that targets black women specifically. The campaign is currently wrapping up its pilot phase and will continue to run throughout the year.
Sarah Alvarez-Michigan Radio Newsroom