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North Carolina ranks 8th in U.S. in highest infant mortality rate

(As of 2018, Illinois ranked 36th in infant mortality.)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 9:46 PM EDT
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N.C. (WITN) - Gov. Cooper and the North Carolina General Assembly were given recommendations on how to lower the child fatality rates in the state.

New data reveals that North Carolina has the eighth-highest infant mortality rate in the country.

The report was created by the Child Fatality Task Force. They say more than 1,200 children died in the state in 2020.

Over 100 baby deaths each year are caused by unsafe sleeping environments.

“Few people would realize just how many infant deaths occur in an unsafe sleep environment,” Kella Hatcher, the group’s executive director said. “If we can do better at teaching folks about what an unsafe sleep environment is and how to avoid that, we really can prevent a lot more of those infant deaths.”

In Eastern Carolina, Martin County has the highest infant mortality rate at 1.75%. Bertie County is second at 1.69%, and Beaufort County is third at 1.40%.

The state currently spends $45,000 on programs to prevent infant deaths, but the task force says it’s time to raise that budget.

They recommend spending a little over $2.00 per North Carolina baby and devoting $250,000 each year to that precaution.

The report also found that areas of the state with the highest child death and infant mortality rates were also areas with other high-risk factors.

Black infants in North Carolina are 2.5 times more likely to die than white infants.

“We’re focusing really on social determinants of health,” Hatcher said. “When we look at those geographic maps, we see that the highest rates tend to be the areas that also have the highest social determinant of health risk factors such as poverty, unemployment, and things like that.”

While the data from 2020 across the state represents about half of the number of deaths North Carolina saw in the 1990s, the numbers have stayed relatively unchanged over the past decade.

This is a clue for the task force that means the systems can be improved.

Each of the state’s 100 counties has a local child death review team to highlight systemic failures and work to prevent future death and mistreatment, but there is no centralized state-level coordination.

The task force recommends creating that system and joining the 47 other states that integrate national data in their practice. It would cost the state about $550,000 per year.

The full report by the Child Fatality Task Force can be found here.

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