A community forum, Strengthening the Health of Detroit’s Mothers and Children, is taking shape to examine the causes of high rates of infant mortality. Let’s hope the results will be more than illuminating. No health issue is more misunderstood, misinterpreted and without imminent solution.

Despite major advances in medical technology, infant mortality threatens to unravel the very fabric of life in urban America. This medical malady, after all, leaves its most discernible mark among the black population.

imagesBlack infants in Detroit for example are dying at an astonishing rate of 15 per 1,000 live births, more than twice the death rate for white babies and twice the national average.

For years, public health officials have grappled with its staggering consequences, the origins of which are many and deeply rooted. Debates about where to attach responsibility range from a lack of improper prenatal care, to poor nutrition and whether teens having babies is a cause or consequence of poverty. The magnitude of the problem, however, rejects any one narrow diagnosis.

Economics may play a role in the difference between black and white infant mortality rates, but probably not to the extent social scientists would have us believe. After all, studies show that even among college educated, middle-class mothers, black infants have nearly twice the mortality rates of comparable white infants.

One indisputable contributor is that babies born to teenage mothers are most at risk. More than half of black babies today are born to a single mother who is socially, economically and psychologically ill equipped for motherhood. These mothers are apt to develop serious, nutritionally related medical problems because they are poorly prepared for understanding the biology of reproduction.

Also contributing to a complicated continuum of trends is the underutilization of existing prenatal services. Health providers often have no way of reaching thousands of young mothers who may never see a doctor before delivery. The result is often low birth weight babies that are born with long-term and often fatal disabilities that result from their fragile condition.

This tragic dilemma may be immune to socially engineered, government-financed remedies when we consider the devastating consequences of crack and heroin on black families and communities.

Drug-addicted babies, exposed to drugs while in the womb, made their way onto the social agenda in the 1980s. Studies show babies born to heroin and cocaine users are four times more likely to be born premature. Many require extensive, intensive care. Low birth weight infants are 20 times more likely to die the first year of life than babies born at normal weights. Those that survive the neonatal period face a future of uncertainties and lifelong disabilities such as autism, retardation, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairments, and learning disabilities. Typically irritable and extremely difficult to nurture, they need special medical care, as developmental problems may not surface until age two or three.

seated-african-child-10086892Even normal weight babies exposed to drugs in the mother’s womb are three times the risk of dying or being afflicted by mental and physical impairments than those not similarly exposed to drugs.

The surge in drug use, smoking and alcohol use among the young will only add to this already depressing morbidity and mortality forecast. Personal values, sexual practices, cultural attitudes, low self-esteem and indifference are intricately woven into the complexities of infant deaths.

More distressing than the plight of these children is that this well-documented problem still lacks, a well-defined solution. Infusions of taxpayer dollars and creative state and local health programs have done little to take Detroit out of the running for the national leader in infant mortality and morbidity.

Our failure to save defenseless babies from preventable death and sickness is a manifestation of our inability to come to terms with a more ominous cultural disease. The force pushing easy solutions beyond our reach is the social breakdown that occurred in the city. Reversing that trend requires long-term behavior modification. Detroit’s unborn and newborn don’t have that much time.

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  1. This article is very valid today with young teen mothers than it was 10-20 years ago. I want to sit here and find every reason to blame the SYSTEM for young teens having babies and not knowing anything about prenatal care, and how the long term affect will damage the baby mental and physical impairments; but I can not find any reason as of yet. Yes, the young immature black mothers in Detroit have contributed to this immortality rate being high because of the lack of responsibility, education in the health field period. I think there’s lots of information out there for anyone to read, and learn a little knowledge about prenatal and healthcare. We may not be able to afford the healthcare of our choice, but there is help; just ask.

    In today’s household single mothers, fathers have a big task to tackle with their children. The conversation alone is frightening to them because the parents don’t know. They are just trying to survive in a world they think is not design for them (they say). What they failed to realize is that life is not a bed of roses for them just as it was not for their parent(s). The difference back then was our parents listen, and understood the consequences of having babies, responsibilities, prenatal care etc. They did not cry about it; they (neighbors) helped one another. The young teens today think they can handle this 18-20 year journey on their own. Let them, therefore stop blaming the City in which they live in, and start blaming themselves. We as people have the power to control the stats that is being reported. Therefore when you stated: Our failure to save defenseless babies from preventable death and sickness is a manifestation of our inability to come to terms with a more ominous cultural disease. The force pushing easy solutions beyond our reach is the social breakdown that occurred in the city. Reversing that trend requires long-term behavior modification. Detroit’s unborn and newborn don’t have that much time. Now this is where I want to hold the SYSTEM accountable for taking out curriculums in high schools that assisted all parents with health care issues. The options was there, clear and debatable. Healthcare/Music/Athletics taken away for a lack of funding, but we find funding in areas that just do not make any sense to me at all (ex. building of the new jail- Downtown Detroit). Therefore, lets reverse this and not complain; this is just not Detroit’s issue ; it’s all young teens throughout this country; large or small cities. We need to save all babies in crisis.

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