Governor Martin O’Malley joined Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein at the Anne Arundel Medical Center on August 8 to announce that the state’s infant mortality rate remains at a record low of 6.7 deaths per 1000 live births in 2011—the lowest rate ever recorded in Maryland for two years in a row. The infant mortality rate is defined as the number of deaths among infants under one year of age per 1,000 live births.
The O’Malley-Brown Administration has made driving down infant mortality by 10 percent one of 15 strategic goals to improve the quality of life in Maryland. Maryland’s infant mortality rate has been driven down by 16 percent since 2008, when the rate was 8.0. In 2011, 493 infants lost their lives compared to 617 in 2008.
“The bottom line is that our strategies for driving down infant mortality are saving lives,” said Governor O’Malley. “Over these past few years we’ve made great strides. We’ve been able to expand health care access to young women and parents, build on local public health efforts, and educate new parents on safer sleep practices. But progress is never inevitable – it has to be earned. We have to work for it – and therefore our work continues.”
Many factors have contributed to the decline in infant mortality rates in recent years. With state and local partners working together, Maryland has expanded health care access to young women and parents, local public health efforts, and safer sleep practices. The state’s Babies Born Healthy Initiative includes new Comprehensive Women’s Health services for women at risk, Accelerated Certification of Eligibility for pregnant women seeking Medicaid coverage, community-based “perinatal navigators” to help pregnant and postpartum women access services, and referrals from birthing hospitals to local health departments for follow-up of high-risk mothers and infants. The State has also distributed more than 4,000 DVDs of the B’More for Healthy Babies video on safe sleep at https://healthybabiesbaltimore.com/video.
Despite the substantial overall improvement, disparities in infant mortality continue to persist. Infant deaths occurred three times more frequently among black infants than among white infants in 2011. In 2011, African-American infant mortality fell in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, but increased in other parts of the state. As a result, there was a small, non-statistically significant increase in the disparity between African-American and white babies in Maryland. Infant mortality rates have also remained high on the Eastern Shore, compared to other areas of the state.
“Through programs like our innovative Health Enterprise Zones initiative, we are now putting a greater focus on disparities in infant mortality and other diseases in order to continue our public health progress in Maryland,” said Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown, who leads the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s health care reform efforts. “We must build on our success and continue working towards a day when every infant born in Maryland, of every race or ethnicity and from every community, has the same chance to survive and live a healthy, happy life.”
Three new promising initiatives are underway or will be underway soon. These include:
- The expansion of family planning services to all women with incomes below 200% of the poverty line through the Medicaid program. This expansion began in January 2012.
- The Health Enterprise Zone program, which will focus resources and incentives in areas of the state with significant disparities in chronic illness. The first Zones are expected to be moving forward by January 2013.
- The full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which will give nearly all Maryland women access to affordable health coverage.
“These new efforts will help many Maryland women, men and children stay healthy,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Over time, these efforts should drive further improvements in a number of our state’s health outcomes, including infant mortality.”
To review the Department’s newly released 2011 Infant Mortality Report, visit https://dhmh.maryland.gov/vsa/Documents/imrep11.pdf.