The mayor, city organizations and state officials are closing in on a serial killer in Baltimore City responsible for a growing death toll among its youngest residents.

Infant mortality is defined as the death of a baby before age 1. In 2008 Baltimore City’s infant mortality rate (IMR) was higher than that of Hong Kong and Malaysia with 12.1 per 1,000 births, up from 11.3 the preceding year.

With the launch of B’More for Healthy Babies, a four-level public health initiative designed to reduce the city’s IMR and promote healthy families, more mothers should be able to see their children grow. “Immediately reducing the number of infants dying from preventable deaths in Baltimore is a critical goal,” said Rafael Lopez, president and chief executive of the Family League. “But we’re also trying to build community awareness of the issue and, ultimately, strengthen policies and public systems that will help educate families and protect infants for years to come.”

B’More for Healthy Babies’ is a three-year initiative with a mission to ensure all babies born in Baltimore have a healthy birth weight, are carried through a full-term pregnancy, and are ready to thrive in families that can make healthy decisions for the child. The city has a high rate of babies born pre-term and underweight, key factors in infant mortality.

Last year, more than 120 infants in Baltimore under age 1 died, with many of the deaths being preventable. “Losing even one infant to a preventable death is a tragedy,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Last year, 27 babies in Baltimore died while sleeping. Twenty-six of them were not put to sleep safely.

These babies might still be living if they had been put to sleep alone, on their backs and in a crib. With the B’More for Healthy Babies initiative, we will be doing everything we can to educate families and the community about how to prevent these kinds of infant deaths.”

The initiative operates on four levels – improving policies and public systems, enhancing services for expecting mothers and families, building community involvement and engaging families and individuals in healthier practices. Although it is citywide, the Patterson Park North and East, Upton/Druid Heights and Greenmount East communities will be primary targets.

The U.S. ranks 39th in the world for infant mortality, with Black babies accounting for 13.7 percent of infant deaths – double the rate of infant mortality among White babies according to Hugh Mighty, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Among African Americans in 2008, 14.3 infants in Baltimore City died per every 1,000 Black babies born. CareFirst has already committed $3 million to support B’More for Healthy Babies.

“Every infant death in Baltimore City is a harsh reminder that we should be doing more to help mothers receive the care they need to have healthy births and care for the fragile lives they take home,” said Chet Burrell, CareFirst president and CEO.

“Our partnership is part of a concerted effort to remove the social and economic barriers now preventing mothers in need from the care and support services that can save their babies’ lives.”