Alabama infant mortality rate hits record low

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s infant mortality rate has reached a record low, but racial disparities have persisted, state health officials announced Wednesday.

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced the 2018 infant mortality rate was the lowest in Alabama history with 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births It is an improvement over the 2017 rate of 7.4 and the 2016 rate of 9.1.

“I am committed to improving the health of mothers and babies, and I am glad to see the infant mortality rates in 2017 and 2018 have improved from the rates earlier in this decade,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

However, Alabama’s mortality rate remains higher than the provisional U.S. rate of 5.7.

“The continuing decline in Alabama’s infant mortality is a start to closing the historically large gap between the state and national rates,” Alabama Center for Health Statistics Director Nicole Rushing said.

A total of 405 infants born in 2018 in Alabama died before reaching their first birthday.

There also remains a racial disparity in infant mortality rates.

The infant mortality rate for black infants in Alabama was 11.0 in 2018, more than twice the infant mortality rate for white infants at 5.1.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said the reduction in infant mortality is encouraging, but the state must continue to address Alabama’s racial disparities in birth outcomes, increase access to prenatal care and getting treatment for women for drug use disorders.

Jim Carnes is the policy director for Alabama Arise, which advocates for low-income families. He said the state also needs to examine barriers to health care.

“Of course we celebrate the improvements in Alabama’s rate, but there are some disturbing trends,” Carnes said, noting the persistent racial disparity and the number of births without prenatal care.

While low-income women gain Medicaid coverage during pregnancy, they often don’t have care before or between pregnancies that could address chronic conditions or problems before they are pregnant, Carnes said.

“That is something we could impact in a huge way with Medicaid expansion,” Carnes said.

The Health Department said the leading causes of infant deaths in 2018 were congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal abnormalities; disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight; sudden infant death syndrome and bacterial sepsis of newborns. These causes accounted for 50% of Alabama infant deaths.