A HEART-WRENCHING MEDICAL MYSTERY

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Newsom proposes $7.5 million to fight black infant mortality.

By Dan Morain, CALmatters

CALmatters is an independent public interest journalism venture covering California state politics and government.

January 21, 2019 (San Diego) - African-American women experience a far higher risk of pregnancy-related death than women in other ethnic groups, and black infants die at far higher rates, a threat that has promped Gov. Gavin Newsom to propose spending an extra $7.5 million to confront the issue next fiscal year.

  • It’s a fraction of the $209 billion budget. But the augmentation would push overall state spending on the problem to $15.5 million.

Here are a few eye-opening facts via the California Department of Public Health, which sought the extra money:

  • The white infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016, similar to other developed nations.
  • The black infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 11.4 per 1,000 live births, a rate comparable to that of such nations as Libya, Albania and Tonga.
  • In California in 2015, the infant mortality rate among African-American infants was 9.3 for 1,000 births, compared to 4.5 per 1,000 for Latinos and 3.5 for white infants.

The reasons are the stuff of medical mystery. One researcher cites 59 separate causes.

  • Perhaps there’s a correlation between infant and maternal deaths and poverty. But the state Public Health Department said in a memo to Newsom that “insured, educated, or employed Black women with high levels of economic security continue to have higher rates of death or complications in pregnancy compared to matched women in other races.”

From the memo: “Black mothers who do not smoke, a major risk for prematurity, have worse perinatal outcomes than White women who do smoke. Finally, prenatal care, while important, is not sufficient to narrow the disparity.”

Babies’ chances as a budget priority 

Photo, right:  A heart-wrenching medical mystery: Black infant mortality has long been a cause for Sen. Holly Mitchell.

As the Great Recession struck in 2007, California lawmakers stripped $3.9 from the budget to combat black infant mortality. That money got restored as the economy rebounded in 2014.

  • In 2018, Sen. Holly Mitchell, Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, pushed for another $4 million, for an annual total of $8.1 million.

Virtually all of it goes to local health departments to focus on improving the chances of African-American mothers and their babies.

Mitchell: “My hope is that once and for all there will be a sustained investment and that we will practice what we preach.”

“We fight for and talk about the importance of women being empowered and listened to and believed,” said Mitchell. She cites the case of tennis great Serena Williams who nearly died after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. It’s tougher for African-American women, no matter their station in society, the result of “racism and implicit bias.”

  • The program pays for itself, health experts note: A state Senate report on the issue noted that even babies who survive but are born early with low birth weight are more likely to suffer from long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism, and chronic medical problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

CALmatters is an independent public interest journalism venture covering California state politics and government.

 

Comments

Governor Newsom

Nice! Sure is rapidly showing he was worth voting for.