This week, city leaders celebrated a record-low infant mortality rate for Black infants in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood of Baltimore.
They attributed the gains to years of local investment, outreach and education through the work of the B’more for Healthy Babies (BHB) initiative, for which the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs has created safe sleep and other campaigns taking aim at infant mortality.
“It is no secret that there’s a significant racial disparity in infant mortality with Black babies, but these are more than just statistics,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott told a gathering on Tuesday. “Thanks to the incredible work of B’more for Healthy Babies and our community partners, Baltimore babies have a better chance of growing up and reaching their full potential.”
Like many jurisdictions across the nation, Baltimore is challenged by significant racial disparities in infant mortality between Black and white babies, with Black babies typically dying between two to five times the rate of white babies.
In 2009, when B’more for Healthy Babies launched, the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood had a higher rate of infant mortality than the city overall, at 15 deaths per 1,000 live births. This neighborhood is home to about 10,000 Baltimore residents, 94.3 percent of whom are Black.
After 10 years of sustained investment in Upton/Druid Heights, the infant mortality rate has dropped by 75 percent to 3.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. This rate is comparable to Baltimore’s overall white infant mortality rate (4.4 in 2019) and is well below Maryland’s overall rate (5.9 in 2019) and the United States rate (5.6 in 2019). It is comparable to Baltimore communities that are far wealthier than Upton/Druid Heights.
“B’more for Healthy Babies reminds us that public health interventions work and can improve health outcomes for all of our communities,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.
The Baltimore City Health Department leads the B’More for Healthy Babies project with funding from Carefirst Blue Cross BlueShield, Family League of Baltimore City, the University of Maryland School of Social Work Promise Heights Initiative, Health Care Access Maryland and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
CCP leads the communication efforts for B’more for Healthy Babies and has partnered with Upton/Druid Heights on many aspects of communication campaign development, including message development. Upton/Druid Heights community members have been engaged in the communication process bring solutions to address inequities and ways to help families thrive.
In 2020, for example, CCP held a hackathon with community members to develop a digital campaign to help young dads navigate the demands of new fatherhood while they’re navigating the steps to adulthood themselves.
“We are excited to celebrate with Upton/Druid Heights and all the B’more for Healthy Babies partners on this achievement,” says Amber Summers, who leads the B’more for Healthy Babies work at CCP. “It’s great to see the impact that collective efforts can have, and evidence of what can happen when the community is centered in the work.”
The extensive work of B’more for Healthy Babies in the involves community organizing of partners and residents by health workers from the community. BHB performs extensive outreach to promote access to prenatal care and primary care services, providing education to local organizations, schools, businesses and pregnant and parenting people. BHB also engages in group-based programming. It leads Moms Clubs for both prenatal education and postpartum support and breastfeeding support groups, as well as parenting classes for pregnant women and parents. It coordinates care and linkage to services. B’more for Healthy Babies also leads father engagement activities, spearheading a unique partnership with area barber shops and leading opportunities for educating parents about safe sleep.