HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced last night during a visit to Navajo Country $4.25 million to support a new initiative to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in infant mortality.
Approximately $2 million will be awarded to seven Tribal Epidemiology Centers and American Indian and Alaska Native service areas to support Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) reduction interventions. The Indian Health Service areas are: Aberdeen, Billings and Navajo.
In addition, approximately $2.25 million have been awarded to the four states experiencing the highest infant death rates for African Americans. These states, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi and South Carolina will implement research-based best practices into their services for mothers and infants. This initiative is part of the Secretary's overall Closing the Health Gap campaign to reduce health disparities among minority communities.
"For too long low birth weight and SIDS have plagued African American and American Indian and Alaska Native communities," Secretary Thompson said. "Through our Closing the Health Gap on Infant Mortality initiative, we will strengthen and expand on our efforts toward eliminating disparities so that low birth weight and SIDS can become a thing of the past."
While HHS will continue with its current high level of effort to reduce infant mortality across all racial and ethnic groups, the Closing the Health Gap on Infant Mortality initiative is intended to accelerate the rate of change among African American and American Indian and Alaska Native populations due to their significant disparities.
The infant mortality rate for white infants in 2001 was 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. African American babies endure the greatest disparity and suffer at a rate of twice that of white infants with 13.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. The rate among American Indian and Alaska Native babies was 9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, also almost twice that of whites. African American infants have the highest infant mortality rates from low birth weight, approximately four times that of infants born to white mothers.
"While we have noted successes in certain populations though our Back to Sleep Campaign, we know that more needs to be done to reach specific populations in this country," Secretary Thompson said. "This campaign will be adapted to do that."
The Closing the Health Gap on Infant Mortality initiative represents a collaborative effort of the Office of Minority Health in the Office of the Secretary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The initiative consists of a three-pronged approach to reducing infant mortality -- research coordination among HHS agencies, risk reduction efforts in communities, and a campaign to improve awareness of factors that contribute to infant mortality. In addition, through HRSA, HHS will pilot a Perinatal Collaborative Series that will improve infant health outcomes in the health center network.
The HRSA Collaboratives are an innovative multi-year health initiative that seeks to eliminate health disparities in our nation by dramatically improving the health status of underserved populations. The collaboratives represent an evidence-based model of care that closes the gap between what is known to be effective health care and what is actually done in clinical practice. Health center teams are currently improving the health and quality of life of their clients through application of this Collaborative Learning Model in the areas of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and depression. The majority of patients served in the health center network are of a racial/ethnic minority.
Approximately 3,000 infants die of SIDS annually in the United States, according to CDC. Within this national statistic, the SIDS rates for infants of American Indian/Alaska Native mothers were 2.6 times those of white mothers and the SIDS rates for infants of African American mothers were 2.4 times those of white mothers.
Tribal epidemiology centers are a critical element of HHS' efforts to improve the health and well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native populations and will serve an important role in providing surveillance, epidemiological analysis and implementation support to SIDS efforts under this initiative.