Arkansas infant mortality rate third highest in the country and getting worse

Local News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — More babies die in Arkansas than just about anywhere else in the country and researchers say it’s only getting worse.

According to data from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service’s 2021 Rural Profile of Arkansas report, if Arkansas were a country, its infant mortality rate would rank worse than 74 countries, including Serbia and Cuba.

Experts say it’s time to expand programs that help mothers and their newborns.

“We are seeing this trend that’s not going in the right direction and that does have important public health implications,” said Eleanor Wheeler, of the U of A Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

Researchers say the infant mortality rate in Arkansas is well above the national average.
“Infant mortality is linked to so many other public health concerns that are out there,” Wheeler said. “It’s kind of like a bellwether for the overall health of communities.”

Angela Duran is the Executive Director of advocacy group Excel by 8.

She says the rates are high for several reasons, like access to healthcare.

“Are moms getting prenatal visits?,” Duran said.  “Are they starting early in their pregnancy? And then after the child is born, is the child going to a pediatrician?”

Duran says social factors like smoking in the home or safe sleep practices also play a role.

Additionally, Duran says there’s a disparity across racial and ethnic groups.

“African American babies are the most likely to die within the first year of life,” said Duran.

There are programs that help moms and their newborns, ones like “Follow Baby Back Home.”
“And the whole purpose is to prevent the family from ending up back in the hospital and ultimately to prevent the death of that baby,” Duran said.

The problem, Duran says, is these programs aren’t offered state-wide.
“And one of the places that it’s not is in the Delta and that’s a huge need,” said Duran.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of work to do to help the least of these, who can’t help themselves.

Excel by 8 says a woman who is pregnant does have access to Medicaid if she’s below a certain income. The best advice is to reach out to the Department of Human Services to get enrolled so she can start getting prenatal care as soon as possible.

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