No One Answer to Disparity in Black, White Infant Mortality Rates

Ashley Kelly, Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), May 3, 2009

The gap between black and white infant mortality continues across the country–and in Hampton Roads it continues to be much larger than it is nationally.

Despite advances in medicine, no one answer definitively explains the disparity.

Black women in Virginia are 2.5 times more likely to experience infant mortality than women of other races, according to the state Department of Health.

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Dr. Jerome Strauss, dean of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, has conducted research that found a connection between the environment and a genetic variation that causes the fetal membrane to rupture leading to pre-term births in black women.

The research revealed a genetic variant that appears to have arisen in Africa which triples the likelihood of the fetal membrane breaking.

“That’s a significant risk increase. That’s not going to explain all pre-term births that occur in African Americans, but it’s going to be a factor that’s responsible.”

Nationally, infant mortality among blacks in 2000 occurred at a rate of 14.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. This is more than twice the national average of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Thursa D. Crittenden, of the Virginia Department of Health office of minority health and public health policy, points to chronic stress which predisposes theblack woman to poor health.

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While this is the case, infant mortality does not occur only in those neighborhoods, she [Beth Kavinsky, coordinator of the Eastern Virginia Perinatal Council] said.

“You can have an African-American woman that makes $150,000 a year as a lawyer, and her rate does not decrease significantly just because she has a better lifestyle.”

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