Infant Mortality: Fort Wayne’s Public Health Crisis

Infant Mortality: Fort Wayne’s Public Health Crisis

Editorial by Erin Norton, director of community outreach, Parkview Health Women’s & Children’s Services  

Too many babies are dying in Fort Wayne. While the death of a baby is typically viewed as a tragedy for a family, which is undoubtedly true, it is so much more than that.  It is a tragedy for the entire community and one that requires a collective call to action.

The infant mortality rate (IMR) measures infant deaths prior to these babies reaching their first birthday.  When looking at the numbers, be sure to keep in mind the number is a rate – measured as the number of deaths per 1,000 live births – and not a percentage.  The United States has a higher IMR than many other developed nations. In 2016, Indiana’s most recent rate was 7.5, higher than 45 other states.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, there are significant differences in the rate when compared by race.  In Indiana, African American babies are about twice as likely to be affected than white babies.  A deeper dive into the data reveals greater disparities in some areas. In the 46806 zip code, for example, the African American IMR from 2012-2016 was 24.  That means an entire classroom of kids won’t be going to kindergarten because they didn’t survive their first year.

The primary cause of infant mortality in Fort Wayne is babies being born too early.  Babies who have not had enough time in the womb to grow and develop, especially those who are born extremely early, face significant challenges.  Regular prenatal care that begins in the first few months of pregnancy is the best way to mitigate this risk.

Genetic problems, accidents and unsafe sleep also contribute. Sadly, there are some conditions that we can’t prevent or treat.  Providing a safe sleep environment for a baby, on the other hand, is something we can control.  Every death caused by an unsafe sleep environment is preventable.

Infant mortality is a community problem and will require a community response.   Too often mothers and fathers bear this burden alone, but there are many ways for those in the community to help.  If you know a woman who is expecting or has a new baby, you can help her immediately with childcare, offering a ride to an appointment, or giving her a pack of diapers.  If you don’t know anyone personally, you can still help.  There are many local organizations that serve youth and young families who accept volunteers, mentors, and donations.

Fort Wayne’s babies deserve the best start in life, and it is up to all of us to make sure they get it.