The United States continues to be plagued by the tragic effects of maternal and infant mortality, particularly among African-American women and children. According to recent data however, one state has shown that there are interventions that can work. Access to quality health care has shown to be a key component to helping women and children.

According to the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality, the United States has made strides in reducing its infant mortality rate. Between 1996 and 2016, the infant mortality rate per 1,000 births, reduced from 7.7 percent to 5.6 percent, a 27 percent decrease. Unfortunately, 5.6 percent is still significantly high, and much more can, and should, be done.

According to recent reports, Louisiana, which has historically dealt with a difficult record in dealing with its maternal and infant mortality rate, has acted. Central Louisiana, commonly referred to as Region 6, faced challenges in tackling the infant mortality rate with children born with low birth weight, premature birth, or exposure to second hand smoke.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, between 2013 and 2015, 16.6 percent of African-American infants were classified as being born at a low birth weight (during the same time period 10.7 percent of all infants in the state were born at a low birth weight). When officials in Region 6 decided to resolve the problem, they concluded that the communities most affected need more access to care.

Officials provided better education on contraception, and increased the involvement of the Nurse Family Partnership among other interventions. The investment paid off, within two years, the infant mortality rate in Region 6 was cut in half. The rate went down to 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015, the lowest of the state’s nine public health regions.

Unfortunately, overall the number of American women who are dying from pregnancy complications compared to women in other nations, is still significantly higher. In fact only in the United States has the rate of women who die due to pregnancy related complications has been rising. In the 48 contiguous States and Washington D.C. the maternal mortality rate has increased from 18.8 percent in 2000 to 23.8 percent in 2014, and then to 26.6 percent in 2018.

While the Louisiana example of local intervention can be important to reducing the overall rate of infant and maternal mortality, more must be done, particularly in the African-American community. Structural racism continues to be a problem that must be addressed. African-American women are three to four times more likely to suffer fatal complications than white women. Between 2011 and 2014, the ratio among white women was 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births and 40 deaths for black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The United States can and should do more to help vulnerable women and infants. First Focus will continue to advocate on behalf of at-risk women and children to address this crisis.