Silence. The beeps are no longer heard, the monitors are no longer on, and the peaks and valleys that represent life now display a flat line. The smallest medical equipment is removed, the lamps turned off, and a mother and father attempt to absorb the unthinkable. Into the world early and gone far too soon, a void has been created that cannot be filled. Today, the village lost a child.
Within the African-American community, it is often believed that the birth and life of a child is not the simply the responsibility of a single family but of a village. The Village, represented by aunts, uncles, grandparents, and “play cousins,” holds a vested interest in raising each child born to it. Just as the village absorbs each life, it is inevitably impacted by each death. Parents not only lose children; the village loses a child.
In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the U.S. infant mortality rate (IMR) at 6.05 which means that out of every 1,000 babies born in the U.S., six are unlikely to survive beyond the stages of infancy. To many six in 1,000 may seem to be a small number, but the death of an infant can never be seen as small. Furthermore, 2010 CDC data reported that African-American babies were more than twice as likely to die as babies born to Caucasian families at a rate of 11.46 to 5.18.
In 2005, the Institute of Medicine reported the economic cost of premature birth to be $26 billion dollars annually at a cost of $51,600 per family. Affecting the individual, the family, and the economy, infant mortality is not a singular battle. It is the battle of the Village.
Although, infant mortality amongst the African-American community remains high, many are working to combat this health disparity. The Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) and National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) are two of numerous organizations seeking to eliminate disparities in infant mortality. AMCHP serves to support state maternal and child health programs and provide national leadership on issues affecting women and children. NHSA is the federal government’s signature community based program focused on reducing infant mortality. In its 22 year existence, NHSA has achieved record lows in infant mortality rates in 2006, 2007 and 2010 – ranking lower than the U.S. national average.
The battle cannot be given to the organizations alone. The IMR of the African-American community is a direct reflection of the overall health of the population. Genetics, pre-existing conditions, and work and life environment have a direct impact on health. We often forget that just as hair texture, eye color, and skin tone can be passed on, so can unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, and failure to seek preventive care. Mothers, fathers and grandparents alike must seek to be healthy in order to combat infant mortality. We must work as a unit. We must work as a village. The village cannot lose another child.
For more information on infant health and mortality, please visit:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics
- The March of Dimes Peristats
- Health and Resources Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau
*Written in memory and honor of the infants lost to close personal friends.