U.S. official: Nation has failed Detroit babies

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit's high infant mortality rate proves the U.S. has failed to offer all of its newborns the chance to live long and healthy lives, a federal official said Wednesday at a forum co-hosted by The Detroit News and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

"The gap is a measure of how much we have failed the greatness of this nation," said Dr. Michael Lu, associate administrator of maternal and child health for Health Resources and Services Administration of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the keynote speaker.

Black babies are born too soon at much higher rates than babies of other races in Detroit and across the U.S. But no city in the nation has a higher preterm birth rate — or higher infant mortality rate — than Detroit's.

A Detroit News study published in January found Detroit is the most dangerous U.S. city to be a child because of the high rate of infant mortality and teenage homicide. The Kellogg Foundation spends $20 million annually to support Detroit programs aimed at improving health in the city.

With local health systems and researchers from the Perinatal Research Branch of the National Institutes of Health, located at the Detroit Medical Center, Mayor Mike Duggan announced in May the "Make Your Date" initiative to ensure every pregnant mom in Detroit gets prenatal care regardless of her ability to pay.

Lu showed a slide of his two daughters, saying babies born in Detroit should have the same chance his little girls did. "You don't get a fair shot if you didn't get a fair start," said Lu, who said the government is committed to developing a national strategy for fighting infant mortality.

A panel of Detroit health leaders said infant mortality is a core problem that must rectified if Detroit is to improve its economy, schools and way of life. They called for leaders from all sectors to be united in their resolve to bring an end to health inequity in the city.

More than one in six Detroit babies is born preterm, said Dr. Sonia Hassan, associate dean for Maternal, Perinatal and Child Health at Wayne State University School of Medicine and director of the Perinatology Research Branch at Wayne State University's Detroit Medical Center.

Vern Anthony, director of Detroit's Department of Health & Wellness Promotion, noted that 90 percent of preterm births in Detroit are in just five of the city's most troubled ZIP codes.

Jaye Clement of Henry Ford Health System stressed the importance of health in giving birth to healthy full-term babies.