A statistical summary published every year by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows a glimmer of progress last year on a long-standing health disparity between black and white Kansans: the death rate for babies in their first year of life.
For more than 20 years, black babies have died at a much higher rate than white babies in Kansas. Some years, the difference has been three-fold. But the 2014 Summary of Vital Statistics from KDHE shows a drop of almost one-third in the black infant mortality rate, from 15.3 per 1,000 live births in 2013 down to 10.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014.
KDHE officials caution against reading too much into these figures, because the numbers are relatively small and there can be large fluctuations year-to-year. Still, that’s the lowest black non-Hispanic infant mortality rate in Kansas since 1998.
J’Vonnah Maryman, who oversees fetal and infant mortality review at the Sedgwick County Health Department, hopes it’s an indication that efforts to address the causes of infant mortality are beginning to pay off.
“That is something that we’re excited to hear about,” she said, noting the rate fell 32.7 percent from 2013 to 2014. “Overall, if you look at a rolling average over a five-year period, it’s also down within the state, so those are all good things.”
At a glance
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment created an online Vital Statistics Summary of key points from the annual report.
However, Maryman said the battle isn’t won yet.
“There is still cause for concern,” she said. “Even though it’s decreasing, and that’s the way that we want it to go, the rate (five-year rolling average) is still approximately 2.6 times higher than that of white non-Hispanic infants.”
Sedgwick County has a higher infant mortality rate than the state as a whole. That’s been true since at least 1985.
“We will continue to work in Sedgwick County to identify the gaps or barriers that we have in resources here, or in education here, so that we can try to minimize the rates here, which weigh heavily on the state of Kansas because of the size and population of Sedgwick County,” Maryman said.
One of those barriers, according to Maryman, is that too many pregnant women and young mothers lack health insurance.
“There’s a good proportion of the cases that we review where the families are not insured, or weren’t insured for the duration of the entire pregnancy,” she said. “We recognize the benefits that come with access to insurance and how insurance can be a facilitator to access to health care, and the importance of health care in ensuring the healthy birth of an infant.”