Did you know that for nearly half a century babies born throughout the Greater Cleveland area have been dying at rates close to those of third-world countries? And Ohio overall has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. Unbelievable, right? Well, not only had we better start believing this to be the case, we better do something about the many cases of infants in Cuyahoga County losing their lives before they ever see the light flicker from the candle on their first birthday cake.
First Year Cleveland (FYC) has accepted the challenge. This community movement’s mission is to mobilize through partnerships and unified strategies to reduce infant deaths and racial disparities.
According to an informational video on Firstyearcleveland.org, approximately 14.5K children are born in Cuyahoga County each year. Nearly 50 percent of the births are white children, 39 percent black and a little more than 10 percent are Hispanic and other. While the majority of babies born are white, more than 75 percent of the babies that die are black, totaling an epic figure of nearly 6,000 black babies in the last 25 years. These numbers are immensely unbalanced at best and after decades of this kind of data the county is forced to answer the question… “Why are black babies dying at nearly six times the rate of white babies in their first year?”
Up until FYC’s inception in 2016, the answers were stereotypically simple and some even you may think are the usual suspects as well… Drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, lack of education, teenage pregnancies, laziness, neglect… So solutions were geared for decades towards problems that in fact are not the source of this societal issue. It’s a bit more systemic than that.
Enter Dr. Arthur James.
Dr. James, an OB-GYN at Ohio State University, has been working in the field of racial disparities for 20 years. His research led FYC to get real answers to why the fight for black babies’ lives was being lost. A lot of intervention was done targeting mothers themselves. Turns out the No. 1 indicator of harm to babies is the immense stress levels put on moms – African-American moms in particular. Moms in the black community are still defending themselves against historical biases and structural racism causing stress to mom and the baby. African-American women with college degrees, middle to upper class income and prenatal care still have substantially worse outcomes than their white counterparts who drop out of high school, have low income and little to no prenatal care.
So what is First Year Cleveland doing about this? FYC’s staff is small but it has organized an action council comprised of grassroots organizations totaling nearly 400 people and 11 action teams dedicated to making a difference and lowering the number of black babies dying. The goal is to raise awareness about infant mortality and share preventative strategies for likely causes such as extreme prematurity, accidental suffocation and other sleep-related deaths.
For more information on First Year Cleveland and all the work it’s doing in the Greater Cleveland community, visit: www.firstyearcleveland.org.