South Carolina’s infant mortality rate is the lowest it has ever been, according to new information released by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
Infant mortality has decreased from 9.5 deaths per thousand live births in 2005 to 6.9 in 2013. That is more than a 25% decrease. The rate was 11.2 per thousand in 1991.
“There’s never been a better time to be born in South Carolina,” Dr. Amy Picklesimer, the clinical lead for the state’s Birth Outcomes Initiative, said. “This is just a sign our state is really moving in a great direction.”
The mortality rate among African-American infants also had a big drop. The rate was at 12.5 in 2012 and lowered by more than two deaths last year, narrowing the racial disparity gap. In 2012, African-American babies in South Carolina died 2.36 more times than white babies. Last year it was 1.82, which is below the national average.
“That’s really important for a state like South Carolina that’s historically been in the bottom five or ten among states with the highest infant mortality,” Picklesimer said. “It would be wonderful to move to the middle of the curve.”
She added that state-by-state comparison is difficult, however. Most states don’t release the numbers on an annual basis. While South Carolina had the ninth-highest rate nationwide in 2010, the current 6.9 rate would drop South Carolina to 16th that year.
Information by DHEC also showed that accidental sleep related deaths dropped by 41% a year ago. The CEO for Children’s Trust of South Carolina Sue Williams said those often preventable deaths drive up the state’s mortality rates. “Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related accidents are among the leading causes of infant mortality in South Carolina,” Williams said in a statement. “This data suggests our ongoing safe sleep education efforts are making a difference.”
Picklesimer said the leading causes of infant deaths in South Carolina are premature birth complications and birth defects, but SIDS and accidental suffocation by sleeping with a parent are the third highest cause.
She credited lower teen pregnancy rates, fewer parents smoking in the house, and fewer premature births were also factors. South Carolina announced in 2013 that its Medicaid options would no longer cover cesarean sections for convenience or non-medical reasons. Blue Cross Blue Shield followed suit that same year.
DHEC is working with organizations in South Carolina to continue lowering the infant mortality rate. The department is focusing on prenatal programs, safe sleep efforts, and improving health between pregnancies.
Jeremy Urso filed this report