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Racial disparities in infant, maternal mortality prevalent

By Heather Graves
Staff Writer

WISCONSIN – Wisconsin leads the nation in infant mortality rates for Black babies.

According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of infant deaths for Black babies in Wisconsin is nearly three times higher than white babies.

In a similar report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), it shows 15 Black infants died per 1,000 live births in 2017.

Furthermore, Black women in Wisconsin are three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, the DHS report stated.

“These are not just statistics, not just a number to look at and easily fly by to the next slide, this is frankly something that is unacceptable,” Dr. Jasmine Zapata, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for community health at DHS, said. “Wisconsin, this is unacceptable.”

These and other statistics sparked iCare, a subsidiary of Humana, to host a Health Equity in Birth Outcomes webinar Sept. 15 to bring community partners, health care providers and other stakeholders together to better drive solutions.

Zapata shared her story of pregnancy complications, as well as those of others close to her, in hopes of sparking conversations across the state about the racial imbalance in infant and maternal mortality.

“A lot of times we have these wonderful panels and events, we get implicit bias training and we are so excited, ‘Oh, we are doing such a great job,’” she said. “I am going to give credit where credit is due. There is a lot of positive forward momentum, but until these statistics are changed and these equities are changed, we have work to do, and we cannot get comfortable. Write that down, ‘We cannot get comfortable,’ because there are many inequities that we still need to focus on and do everything in our power to change.”

Racial disparities in connection with health care discussions have gained traction recently as communities and organizations throughout the country have adopted resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis.

Topics of discussion during the forum included that, as well as Medicaid, medical equity, infant and maternal mortality rates and its causes, the importance of prenatal care and the outcomes that stem from its absence, the significance of supporting community-based organizations with their work and more.

“I really think we need to start with the data, and we have to identify when things are happening, how things are happening, where things are happening and the outcomes we are seeing and we need more of that information so we are able to target our approach…,” Jim Jones, state Medicaid director at DHS, said. “I prefer to target (Medicaid money) in a way that really focuses on making sure we really understand the issues that are going on and where the best place is for us to put our foot in the sand is.”

The forum was originally planned as an in-person event but was changed because of an increase in COVID-19 cases.

The event was hosted in partnership with Urban League and United Way.

The forum in its entirety, speaker biographies and supporting documents can be found online by CLICKING HERE.

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