University heads fight against infant mortality

Florida A&M University hosted the Black Infant Health Alliance Summit and Community Forum on Feb. 2. The event held multiple workshops, press conferences and a special book signing to promote awareness on the issue of black infant health and the growing number of infant deaths within the black race.

Organizations such as Minority Health, March of Dimes and the Tallahassee Memorial Women’s Pavilion along with many other vendors were in attendance. At the booths, the organizations gave out pamphlets and other information to inform mothers, students and women in general about staying healthy while pregnant and what to do after a pregnancy.

Minority Health put the event together in hopes of creating a movement to help further research endeavors. Infant mortality is a sign of infant health, community health and access to prenatal care, according to the information provided by Minority Health.

The overall view states that Florida infant rates decreased until the mid-to-late 1990s. Over the past 10 years, the infant mortality rate has been flat at 7.4 per 1,000 live birth in 1996 and 7.2 per 1,000 live births in 2006.

The black infant mortality rate was double the white infant mortality rate between 1986 and 2006.

The organizations collaborated to come up with the idea to prevent the situation from growing but also to bring to Leon County’s attention that black infant mortality rates within Florida are high.

“Anybody can get on the computer and look up the numbers, and that’s basically what I did when I confronted the Leon County commissions,” said Dr. Edward Holifield of the Leon County Health Department. “My objective basically is to place it on the agenda to force people to acknowledge it, to prevent it from being swept under the rug and to remove the excuse that folks didn’t know about it. We’re up to 15 per 1,000 births here in Leon County.

During the press conference, the panel consisting of Henry Lewis, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science, and Director of Minority Health Emile Commedore worked together to explain the situation.

“This is a fantastic collaboration with FAMU, and Minority Health would certainly like to continue that. We think FAMU is very valuable,” Commedore said. “Right now, we’re co-sponsoring general awareness to the public to come up with some interventions.”

A workshop briefly discussing infant mortality and what the community could do to help halt the increase was held Jan. 26. The workshop not only informed but also showed how to build a community center that focuses on the cause of infant mortality.

Jack Turman Jr., Ph.D., from the University of Southern California, said the building of this center was important. Turman is in charge of the USC Center for Premature Infant Health Development.

In regards to FAMU’s awareness of the situation and hopes of notifying others, Turman praised the University for its initiative.

“As a professor that has dedicated the last five and a half years of his life to try and get something going like this at the University of Southern California, you are heck of a lot further than I ever was when I started,” Turman said.

Turman went on further to say that the cause of the situation is not due to genetics, poverty or being a single mother.

“Genetics is not the cause of racial disparity, and if it were genetics, we’d see the situation around the world with black women,” Turman said.

Spike Lee’s wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, also made an appearance with her children’s book, “Please, Baby, Please!”

Showing her support, Lee gave many of her books to the parents and children.

With all of the vendors and workshops, Minority Health hopes this event sparks a new movement within the community.