INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence told public health officials from around the state that the rising number of babies dying in Indiana before they reach their first birthday is “deplorable” and challenged them to think of new ways to combat the state’s worsening infant mortality rates.
“This is not about reducing numbers. This is about reducing heartache,” Pence said Friday, in his opening remarks at the state’s first-ever Infant Mortality Summit.
More than 500 people who attended the summit heard Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess say it was “just not acceptable” that Indiana now has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation. The rate was 7.7 deaths out of every 1,000 babies born in 2011 (the latest numbers available) compared to the national rate of 6.05 deaths per 1,000 births. That’s make Indiana’s infant mortality rate the 6th highest in the nation.
VanNess said the implications of those numbers are cause for alarm. “Infant mortality is the number one indicator of health status in the world,” said VanNess, an Anderson doctor who took on the role of the state’s top health officer earlier this year.
He also acknowledged that public health officials face a major challenge in bringing the infant death rate down since the causes are multiple and complex. There are a range of risk factors for pregnant women, including obesity, smoking and lack of prenatal care, that contribute to higher infant death rates.
Indiana doesn’t fare well: Almost one-third of pregnant women in Indiana don’t receive prenatal care in their first trimester; almost 17 percent of pregnant women are smokers, compared to the national rate of 9 percent; and the state ranks 8th in the number of obese citizens.
The decision to tackle the infant mortality rate also comes at a time when resources are declining: VanNess said state and county health department budgets, two-thirds of which are funded by the federal government, will continue to see cuts.