Infant mortality State seeks to reduce deaths as rate rises

Illustration for infant mortality story by Renee Dudley. (Tom Spain/Staff)

Tom Spain

South Carolina’s infant mortality rate increased slightly in 2010, according to new data the state released earlier this month.

The rate increased from 7.1 deaths per 1,000 babies in 2009 to 7.4 per 1,000 in 2010, according to figures from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. That is higher than the nation’s current estimated rate of 5.98 per 1,000.

The state “will be working to move those numbers back in a downward direction,” DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said in a statement

In 2010, 430 infants died before their first birthday, the data shows. That number is unchanged from 2009, although fewer babies were born in 2010.

The figures show gaping racial disparities: The state’s 2010 infant mortality rate for minorities was 10.9 deaths per 1,000 babies born. That compares with a rate of 5.5 per 1,000 for white babies.

The South Carolina mortality rate for minority babies was below the national average of 11.6 deaths per 1,000 for blacks alone. The rate for white babies was higher than the national average of 5.2 deaths per 1,000.

Templeton pointed out that overall figures have decreased significantly in the past two decades. In 1991, the infant mortality rate was 11.2 deaths per 1,000 babies born.

“We’re pleased to see the overall long-term downward trend of this data,” Templeton said in the statement. “We believe that holding steady with last year’s number, which was a historic low for our state, is a sign that efforts on the ground ... are making an impact in the lives of South Carolina’s children.”

Templeton said improved access to health services for pregnant women has contributed to decreasing rates historically. New efforts at the state Medicaid agency could lead to additional improvement in the future. The agency announced recently it would no longer cover early elective cesarean sections with a goal of cutting costs and reducing the number of low-birth-weight babies.

Congenital malformations and disorders in babies born too early or too small are the top causes of death for infants under age 1, according to DHEC. Sudden infant death syndrome is another top cause.