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Summit Held to Combat Infant Deaths in Kentucky

Ideas and creative strategies to reduce infant mortality in Kentucky was discussed at a summit where Governor Steve Beshear joined dozens of public health professionals, health care providers, policymakers, advocates, and academics.

Nearly 350 infants die in Kentucky each year before their first birthday.

“Protecting the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, Kentucky’s infants,is one of the key goals of my administration,” Beshear said. “I don’t have to tell you how fragile the first months of life are or how important it is for health care providers and public officials to do everything we can to help parents protect their children.”

The Governor’s comments are part of his overall push to ensure that Kentucky children have a safe and nurturing environment to develop into productive adults. 

The Governor’s Summit on Infant Mortality, held at the Kentucky History Center in downtown Frankfort, attracted people from around the state to present ideas and creative strategies to reduce infant mortality. Sponsored by the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the event also featured nationally noted experts in maternal and child health along with state and local representatives in the field.

It is part of an ongoing partnership with the National Governor’s Association, which selected Kentucky as one of the first of four states chosen to participate in the Improving Birth Outcomes Learning Collaborative. Connecticut, Louisiana and Michigan are also a part of the collaborative.

The goal of the collaborative is to assist states in developing, implementing and aligning their key policies and initiatives related to the improvement of birth outcomes, as measured by the incidence of preterm births and infant mortality.   

The project will focus on demonstrated best practices of states that have improved birth outcomes. Participating states will learn about coordinating activities across agencies and options to accelerate the pace of improving outcomes and reducing costs.

“If we are truly going to make a difference in the overall health of our state, we have to consider the significance of infant mortality in our society,” said Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes, who also spoke at the event. “If a measure of a successful society is its ability to prevent infant deaths, then we need to take a long hard look at this issue because the truth is too many of our babies are dying – and they don’t have to.”

According to the Department for Public Health, the United States ranks 27th in infant mortality compared to other developed countries. Kentucky has a higher infant mortality rate than the nation’s average of 6.6 deaths per 1,000 births. The most recent national rate (preliminary data) is 6.1 deaths per 1,000 births.

Summit topics covered state programs and initiatives for maternal and child health; the importance of preconception care; reducing elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks; secondhand smoke and birth outcomes; safe sleep programs and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome); neonatal abstinence syndrome and a group discussion on next steps for Kentucky.

Dr. Lucinda J. England, M.D., and Dr. Carrie Shapiro-Mendosa, both from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led the discussions on secondhand smoke and safe sleep.

“The Governor’s Summit on Infant Mortality was a wonderful opportunity to bring some of the brightest minds in maternal and child health together to share ideas and develop strategies for reducing infant mortality in Kentucky,” said Dr. Ruth Shepherd, director of the division of maternal and child health in the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “We need to implement strong initiatives at the state and local levels, making sure we are doing everything we can to strengthen the health and well-being of Kentucky’s infants. After all, every child deserves to live to celebrate their first birthday.”

Source: news release

Photo: Map of Kentucky counties