A new report shows that infants belonging to a racial minority in South Carolina are more than twice as likely to die from birth complications than white infants.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) report shows that the 2015 mortality rate for white infants was 4.8 deaths per 1,000 live births while the rate for infants belonging to a racial minority was 11.2 per 1000.
“The fastest growing increases were medical problems in pregnancy and of birth defects,” said Dr. Scott Sullivan, the Director of Internal Fetal Medicine at Medical University of South Carolina. “Those things primarily stem from poor overall health and poor prenatal care and those are large structural problems.”
Part of the disparity in infant mortality rates between white infants and racially diverse infants derives from an unequal distribution of resources in maternal healthcare. “If you look at the healthcare facilities in rural areas with high African-American populations and look at them compared to say a Charleston or Mount Pleasant or Lexington, they look like they are almost [from] different countries,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Dr. Sullivan believes that the increases in infant mortality rates across the state are largely preventable. Since South Carolina is a rural state, many areas don’t have access to a local gynecologist. Because of this lack of access, Sullivan said many women are not getting the recommend number of doctors visits during their pregnancy. “If you see someone at 20 weeks of pregnancy for the first time you’ve missed tons of opportunity to make things better, you are just really managing at that point.” says Dr. Sullivan.
The gap in infant mortality rates is widening. While the infant mortality rate for white infants has remained relatively stagnant for several years, the mortality rate for racially diverse children saw increases. In 2014 the infant mortality rate for white infants was 4.4 deaths per 1000 births and only increased to 4.5 deaths in 2015. For children belonging to a racial minority, the rate rose almost two percent since 2013. DHEC data from 2013 shows that 9.5 deaths occurred for every 1000 births, while in the most recent DHEC report the infant mortality rate for racially diverse children was 11.2 deaths per 1000 live births.
Overall the infant mortality rate in the state has declined since a high in 2005. That year the rate 9.5 deaths per 1000 births (white infants 7.0 deaths per 1000 births; racial minority 14.3 deaths per 1000 births). Going forward Dr. Sullivan would like to see more funding for programs like the Birth Outcome Initiative which is sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services through Medicaid. The Birth Outcome Initiative focuses on educating mothers on prenatal care in poor communities where infant mortality are the highest in the state.