The Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force will convene for the first time Jan. 31.

The Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force will convene for the first time Jan. 31.

The general public is invited to attend the inaugural meeting, slated for 9:30 a.m. at Columbus Public Health, 240 Parsons Ave.

Among the speakers will be Magda Peck, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and founding dean of the school's Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health.

Also speaking will be Michael Fiorile, president and CEO of The Dispatch Printing Co., and Donna James, managing director of Lardon and Associates, who co-chair a task force charged with reducing the rate of infant mortality in Columbus by 40 percent and cutting the racial disparity in half.

"Clearly, infant mortality is a crisis in our community," said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health. "More than three babies a week are lost in our region.

"And we know that many of these deaths are preventable, so that is the motivation behind the task force, to find solutions. Consider our rate of infant mortality is twice that of New York City."

Rodriguez said the task force will meet once a month and will submit draft recommendations sometime this summer.

The task force was formed last year by Andy Ginther, president of Columbus City Council, and Theresa Long, Columbus Public Health commissioner. Its members include more than 20 people representing the medical field, business, community and local government.

"We have an amazing, talented team that has taken on this issue," Rodriguez said.

The issue has been on the minds of state officials, too, as Ohio ranks 48th of 50 states in the nation in infant mortality.

The Ohio Department of Health established the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality in 2010 and has since "brought together partners from across the state to not only recognize the challenge but to bring to the table solutions as well," said Tessie Pollock, spokeswoman for the health department.

The Ohio Department of Health also has dedicated more than $6 million in 2014-15 for such things as prenatal smoking-cessation programs, more comprehensive newborn health screenings and outreach efforts to areas struggling with infant mortality rates.

"The Ohio Department of Health has made infant mortality one of our four strategic priorities," Dr. Ted Wymyslo, director for the Ohio Department of Health, said in a prepared statement.

"These babies should and could live to see their first birthday, if given a chance at success. We are working to prevent infant mortality by focusing on safe sleep environments, preventing prematurity and creating system changes in healthcare so that babies and mothers are healthy before, during and after pregnancy."