City task force aims to reduce infant mortality


It's a sobering statistic that has caused local officials to mobilize into action: Every week, three Columbus families are burying a child who died before his or her first birthday.

Nov. 18, Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther and Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Teresa C. Long announced the formation of a task force charged with reducing the number of infant deaths in the region.

"In Columbus and Franklin County, our numbers have been consistently higher than the nation and state," Long said. "We have to address this problem."

The task force includes more than 20 health, community and business leaders chosen for "their expertise and areas of leadership," said Long, who's also a member of the team.

She said the group will start meeting in earnest in January to develop a communitywide strategy to reduce infant mortality by 40 percent overall and 50 percent in the black community, where the infant mortality rate for babies is two-and-a-half times that of white babies in Franklin County.

Infant mortality has been a vexing problem locally and nationally for a number of years, Long said.

Ohio is ranked 48 of 50 states, Franklin County is 71 of 88 Ohio counties and Columbus is 36 of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

New York City, by comparison, has half the number of infant-mortality deaths than Columbus. The U.S., meanwhile, is ranked 32 of 34 industrialized nations. It reflects the broader socioeconomic, cultural, education and health factors.

"Infant mortality, again, is a measure of well being," Long said. "It's more than the health of children. It's multi-factoral."

Health officials point to four key areas of concern: children who are born too early or too small, serious birth defects, unsafe sleeping conditions and maternal complications during pregnancy.

Mothers also must maintain healthy lifestyles during four key periods of their lives: prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy, at birth and during the first year of a child's life, Long said.

Controlling chronic health conditions and having access to healthcare also are important in the survival rate of newborns.

"They're really critical for the infant and baby to thrive," she said.

Several cities and the country overall have made some progress in decreasing infant-mortality rates, Long said.

"The good news is this community has a variety of sources working on this already," she said.