Infant deaths have decreased significantly in Hamilton County, a new report shows, though there is still work to be done on pervasive disparities in health outcomes for minority infants.
The county saw 92 babies die before their first birthday in 2018 — or 8.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a report released last week by Cradle Cincinnati. That group has been working to reduce the county's high infant mortality rate, which in 2011 was the second-highest in the country.
This year's numbers show a marked improvement over 2017, when 97 infants died, giving the county a rate of nine infant deaths per 1,000 live births. But despite the improvement, the county still lags behind the nation's overall rate of 5.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
That is in large part due to stubbornly-high mortality rates for black infants in Hamilton County.
“The credit here belongs to our entire community," Cradle Cincinnati Executive Director Ryan Adcock said in a statement. "Hundreds of individuals are playing a role in positive change in Hamilton County, from social service providers to nurses to moms and dads leading their own change.It’s only through our collective work that we’ve seen this kind of progress. Now, we need to bring that same collaboration and shared ambition to solve the intractable racial disparity that we still see in birth outcomes.”
Those disparities don't go away when controlling for economic status, Cradle Cincinnati's report says, and aren't explained by parental behavior or genetics.
While the rates for the county's white and Hispanic infants roughly match the national rate, the mortality rate for black babies is more than three times the rate for white babies at 16.7 percent. Black babies also do worse here than they do nationally, where the infant mortality rate is 11.4 percent.
Cradle has a number of suggestions and programs to address this disparity — from support groups for black women in their childbearing years called Queens Village to advocacy for more community health workers, group prenatal care, implicit bias care for prenatal workers and other efforts.
Locations that already have a lot of investment in on-the-ground efforts to reduce infant mortality include Avondale, Price Hill and Villages at Roll Hill.
"Our strategy now is to focus squarely and unapologetically on Black women,” Cradle Cincinnati Director of Community Strategies Meredith Shockley-Smith said in a statement. “The problem here is not with individuals’ behaviors, but rather with larger systems that are impacting Black families — regardless of income — in disproportionately negative ways.”
Most of the infant deaths in 2018 — 57 percent — were due to preterm birth. But the county made progress here, reducing the number of preterm birth-related infant deaths by almost 20 percent. About 22 percent of infant deaths last year were due to birth defects and another 13 percent were sleep-related fatalities.