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State health officials say infant mortality rate lowest in state history, racial disparities down

newborn baby

Michigan has achieved its lowest infant mortality rate in the state's recorded history, according to an announcement this week by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Infant mortality is the death of an infant before reaching the age of one. 

The newly released data shows an infant mortality rate of 6.4 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2019. That's down from a rate of 8.5 per thousand in 2003.

While MDHHS reported a significant drop in disparties between Black and white infant death rates, Black babies still die at a substantially higher rate. 

Black infants died at 2.6 times the rate of white infants in 2019, compared to 3.2 in 2018. In 2019, the Black infant mortality rate was 12.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births, while the white infant mortality rate was 4.9.

The differences in 2019 between the infant mortality rates of Hispanic infants (5.4), Asian/Pacific Islander infants (5.1) and white infants (4.9) were far less.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive, said although the downward trends are encouraging, "I do think Michigan certainly has a ways to go when it comes to decreasing our overall infant mortality rate and decreasing that Black-white disparity."

"Our goal for the state is for there to be no disparties between any race and ethnicity and for there to be zero preventable deaths," said Dr. Khaldun. 

Dr. Khaldun said more work needs to be done to eliminate root causes of the disparities. She said that means addressing systemic racism in areas like poverty and access to health care, housing, and transportation.

Despite the need for continued efforts, Dr. Khaldun said, "We're seeing really positive trends. Specifically I'll call out the City of Detroit which has had the highest infant mortality rate in the state. We saw that infant mortality rate drop from 16.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018 to 11 deaths per thousand in 2019."

In 2019, MDHHS announced the 2020-2023 Mothers Infant Health & Equity Plan. That plan lays out strategies to improve the health of mothers and babies toward the goal of Zero Preventable Deaths and Zero Health Disparities.

According to the report, Michigan ranks 38th out of the 50 states in infant mortality.

An MDHHS spokesperson said infant mortality data for 2020 will not be available until February or March 2022.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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