Healthy Start Creates Hope for Infants


Actors Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe were applauded for sharing the story of their daughter’s battle with spina bifida, a birth defect, at the third annual Cradle of Hope luncheon on Friday. But the real star of the show was infant mortality, which has not received enough credit for the leading role it plays in the Black community. By informing the public of just how prevalent the problem is, Baltimore City Healthy Start hopes to change that.

As Maryland’s only federally funded infant mortality reduction program, Baltimore City Healthy Start has been leading the fight to prevent infant death and has served over 12,000 pregnant and postpartum women in the city’s most economically depressed communities since 1991. The Cradle of Hope campaign is Healthy Start’s public awareness initiative that educates and engages Baltimore residents about issues surrounding infant mortality.

Baltimore native Nicole Ari Parker and her husband Boris Kodjoe were the event’s keynote speakers this year.

“They’re going to talk about their journey and how they became advocates of Spina Bifida,” Alma Roberts, Baltimore City Healthy Start president and CEO, said of the Brown Sugar pair on Monday. “They’re a wonderful couple and we want to put those kinds of images out there. It’s going to be a nice event.”

Infant mortality, which is defined the death of a baby before the age of one, is often used to indicate the general health of a nation. 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. Among African Americans in 2008, 14.3 infants in Baltimore City died per every 1,000, versus 7.3 deaths among White infants.

“The big issue is that infant mortality in this nation is at an abysmal level,” Roberts said. “We have had significant impact in reducing infant death and reducing the low birth weight, which is where most of the death occurs.”

In order to prevent infant deaths, Baltimore City Healthy Start works to eliminate very low birth weight (VLBW), low birth weight (LBW) and pre-term births. African-American infants are two to three times more likely to die because of unhealthy birth weights than White infants. However Roberts said her organization has been very successful at reducing VLBW infants, or infants born at 3.3 pounds or less, in Baltimore City. “We have just virtually been able to eliminate that,” she said.

With Black women accounting for 60 percent of people living in poverty in the United States, Roberts said not only is IMR is a national trend that the Black community should fear, but Black women die from pregnancy complications four and a half times more than White women. Through the Cradle of Hope luncheon, leaders pushing to end the health disparity among Black women and babies spread awareness of IMR and methods of prevention.

“Everybody needs to hear the message and they need to hear it from multiple perspectives,” Roberts said. “It’s very much a message that Black folks need to be tuned in to and take hold of.”