The message from protesters marching on Fresno’s streets this month has been that Black Lives Matter.
We’d like to add this to the discussion: Black Babies’ Lives Matter, Too!
Babies cannot shout, cannot write; they don’t march; they have no money for lawyers and lobbyists.
Just a year ago this month, our county was forced to confront a sad and sobering reality. Research showed that our black infants were three times more likely to die in their first year of life than white and Hispanic infants. Hold on to your politics. These are babies. They have done nothing but bring joy into the world. Yet in Fresno County, a shameful number of them never lived to their first birthday.
A Fresno State study determined many of the reasons for our high black infant mortality rate were overwhelmingly preventable. In a nutshell, these deaths resulted from a lack of prenatal or perinatal care, mothers with little or no social support, parents uneducated about the risks of infant death, and mothers suffering from high levels of stress and negative experiences when trying to access health care
The good news is that experts are telling Bee health reporter Barbara Anderson of positive developments after First 5 Fresno County Chairman Henry Perea vowed last year that the Fresno State study would not sit on a shelf gathering dust.
First 5 has taken a lead in developing several new initiatives:
▪ $300,000 has been dedicated to reducing black infant mortality;
▪ Establishing a program where pregnant black women meet as a group with a health provider;
▪ The University of California, San Francisco-Fresno, among other possible partners, is expressing interest in providing doctors for the program.
▪ The UC San Francisco Preterm Birth Initiative has offered to help. The March of Dimes is supportive, and the Fresno County Public Health Department is a partner.
Excellent! In addition, the one piece vital to the success – input from black mothers and fathers – is taking shape. Their leadership and experience will be crucial elements to the program’s success. Professionals can make plans all day long, but our county has demonstrated that many experts lack cultural competency with the black community. A multigenerational group of black parents acting as thought leaders is definitely called for.
First 5 has plans for that as well. In addition, a council of parents who have had preemies or who have suffered the loss of a child is on the drawing board.
Fresno County’s black infant mortality statistics are so bad that they shocked state leaders who recalled when we once stood as a national leader in caring for black infant health, with an infant mortality rate of 10 per 1,000 births. But during the Great Recession, the budget was slashed by $1 million and the death rate soared.
This year the county’s program got $790,065, doubling its previous allocation. This means more women will be served, and a nurse, social worker and three full-time family health specialists have been hired.
This progress is welcome. Leaders, health care professionals and champions for children in the black community deserve praise. The money coming in is encouraging. But it’s too soon to celebrate.
Unfortunately, not everyone “gets it.” Fresno County required $1.3 million a year in 2007 to get those good results. We cannot stop fighting for black babies until our efforts result in proven effectiveness. We must insist on results that show that black babies’ health care is restored to its former status as one of the best in the country.
We know how to do it. We have done it. We want to see this billboard: “We’ve got you, babe.”