Georgia has improved its infant mortality rate but has seen a jump in its maternal mortality rates.
The rates were included in a series of health statistics presented at a Department of Public Health board meeting Tuesday.
Infant mortality is the number of infants dying before reaching their first birthday. Maternal mortality, defined by the World Health Organization, is the number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth.
All Southeastern states have seen a decline in infant mortality, said Dr. Mitch Rodriguez, a Macon neonatologist, and Public Health board member, in a presentation to the board.
Georgia’s rate has dropped from 8.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in the period 2002 to 2006 to 7.3 deaths during the 2007-2011 period. That translates to more than 550 fewer infant deaths during the most recent period, he said.
“There is no magic pill to solve the problem,’’ Rodriguez said. The state is pursuing several initiatives to help lower the rate, including a task force, community programs, and recognizing “baby-friendly’’ hospitals that promote breastfeeding.
The state has also lowered its premature birth rate by 17.7 percent from 2007 to 2011, Rodriguez said. Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death.
Preterm births – those before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy – cost the U.S. more than $26 billion annually.
Tobacco use during pregnancy – a risk factor for preterm birth – has also dropped in Georgia, Rodriguez noted.
But the state’s maternal death rate has increased from 20.8 per 100,000 live births in 2001-2006 to 35.5 per 100,000 in 2011.
Public Health officials said Tuesday that they are reviewing these cases to determine common factors.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported recently that the national maternal death rate has crept upward, to more than double what it was 25 years ago.
Systems identifying deaths have improved, so how much of the increase can be attributed to risk is uncertain, the newspaper reported.
But Dr. George Saade, director of maternal-fetal medicine at University of Texas Medical Branch, told the Post-Dispatch that black women were three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy. “These two things are very concerning, particularly in a developed country like the U.S,” he said.
On another maternal-child issue, 2.5 percent of infants born to a Georgia woman with HIV from 2005-2010 had the disease transmitted to them, a rate slightly above the national average.
Georgia officials reported good news regarding asthma. The annual asthma mortality rate has dropped, as has the hospitalization rate for children from birth through age 4, said Francesca Lopez, program manager for the Georgia Asthma Control Program.
But asthma disproportionately affects black children, she noted, with more than half of ER visits and hospitalizations involving African-American kids.
A coalition has been formed to work on reducing the asthma burden, and includes health professionals, educators, academics, and public health professionals.