Partner Highlight: Eliminating Disparities in Guilford County’s Infant Mortality Rate

For 29 years, the Guilford County Coalition on Infant Mortality has led the community to advocate for and develop strategies and activities to reduce infant mortality. It’s hallmark program, Adopt-A-Mom, was created in 1991 to provide prenatal care to Guilford County women who are not eligible for Medicaid and lack the financial resources to pay for private insurance and care. Research shows that women who do not receive prenatal care experience higher rates of low birth weight and preterm births, two leading causes of infant mortality.

Today, Guilford County’s infant mortality rate remains one of the highest in the state at 9.8 per 1,000 births in 2017, compared to 7.1 in North Carolina. African American women experience infant mortality at a rate 2.5 times higher than white women (12.3 per 1,000 births compared to 5.1 per 1,000 according to rolling five-year infant mortality rates, 2013-2017). In addition, African American infants were born with low birth weight almost twice as often, at a rate of 16.4% compared to 8.5% for white and 8.7% for Latina infants.

A variety of factors create these disparities. However, the data points to systemic racism and discrimination as the major culprits to access to high-quality care. For example, studies have shown that Black/African American women are more likely to experience discrimination at the doctor’s office. They are also less likely to be believed when they report that something is going wrong during pregnancy, which encourages silence and prevents women from raising concerns so they can be proactively addressed.

“We all heard about the example of Serena Williams, the best tennis player of all time, who almost died during childbirth and almost lost her own child,” says Jean Workman, Director of the Coalition. “It’s shocking that a woman who knows her body so well was ignored when she reported abnormal pain prior to delivery. We have to start believing women’s experiences, especially women of color, and taking away the systemic barriers that keep Black/African American babies from having the healthiest start possible.”

The Coalition, in partnership with Ready Ready, has launched a concerted effort to address the root causes of these disparities. The bold goal? To eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes over the next five years.

“This will take significant work on the part of the whole community, starting with education about the issue,” said Workman. “The Coalition kicked off this work in January with a day-long training by the team of Tepayac Consulting and Ambrose Consulting for 34 community partners working to improve birth outcomes. With Ready Ready, we’re following up with a series of online trainings from our partners at the Institute for Public Health Innovation about addressing systemic racism. And a design team will be launched this summer to start developing a community-wide action plan focused on improving birth outcomes and reducing disparities.”

You can read more about the issue in a Greensboro News & Record article from earlier this year. Want more information about this work or to get involved? Contact Jean Workman at jworkman@guilfordcountync.gov.