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Project takes aim at black infant death rate

Project takes aim at black infant death rate

By Cynthia A. Roby….
African American children born in Miami-Dade County face a grim battle to survive past their first year, according to official statistics.

Manuel Fermin, CEO of Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade, said statistics show that for Miami Gardens, North Miami and Opa-locka, the average infant mortality rate was 12.9 deaths per 1,000 live births for the period 2005-07, compared to 5.8 for white and Hispanic infants.

These numbers are for African American native-born infants, Fermin said. “That’s where the health disparity is most pronounced,” he said.

Miami-Dade’s black population is diverse and includes Jamaicans, Haitians, Cubans and Puerto Ricans, in addition to African Americans, “yet their babies survive at rates similarly to those of whites,” Fermin said.

But, Fermin said, the longer the children of other blacks live in this country, the worse their statistics become.

In an effort to address such disparities, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade has launched a local branch of The Jasmine Project, a national Healthy Start program focused on promoting healthy outcomes for black infants, pregnant women and new mothers.

The kick-off event took place at Florida Memorial University’s Smith Conference Center in Miami Gardens Sept. 25.

The project is committed to providing women and their families the most advanced health education and parenting resources available, according to Connie Morrow, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine program director.

“Our goal is to close the gap in racial and ethnic disparities for black infants by promoting health practices that we know impact infant mortality,” Morrow said.

The African American population of the three targeted cities is the “specific focus” of the project which was awarded a five-year annual grant of $750,000 by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Jasmine Project is the only newly funded federal Healthy Start project in the country, Fermin said, adding that the grant also provides for the creation of eight fulltime positions, many filled by Miami Gardens residents.

The kick-off offered attendees free health screenings, parenting and family engagement classes, nutrition consultations and Afro-centric story telling.

Sponsor organizations provided giveaway products such as bike helmets, backpacks, books and educational materials. They included Prestige Health Choice, Health Choice Network, CarMax, Early Learning Coalition, the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Miami-Dade County Health Department, the North Dade Health Center/Jackson Health Center and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Center.

Research, Morrow said, has shown that babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides are at much greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. The safest sleeping position for an infant is on his or her back.

“Not everybody knows this simple fact,” Morrow said, “and we need to make sure that this message reaches everyone.”

Morrow said it is also important to address individual maternal risk factors and behavior that contribute, in the long run, to infant mortality, along with health choices, such as smoking during the pregnancy, substance abuse, nutritional factors and chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

“All of those things are important to look at,” she said.

Communities can play an important role in this effort by encouraging pregnant women to seek prenatal care from the first trimester, Morrow said.

Martina Ramos 20, of North Miami, attended the event in search of information. Pregnant with her first child and struggling with the loneliness of having newly relocated to South Florida, she said she “fears the unknown of parenting” but was happy to receive educational materials and “bond with the other mothers” as The Jasmine Project was launched.

For more information on The Jasmine Project, call 303-243-4080.

Copyright © 2010 South Florida Times. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from South Florida Times.