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Black Infants' Health Tied to Mothers’ Health

Byline: Rebecca Rona-Tuttle

It's terrible to contemplate: the mortality rate for African American babies is significantly higher than for other babies.

In fact, nationwide, African American infants have 2.4 times the mortality rate as non-Hispanic white babies. This troubling statistic and many others are readily available on the website of the Office of Minority Health, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Given the poverty in this county and state, our tattered safety net, the difficulty accessing decent medical care with which many African American residents contend, inadequate awareness around health, the troubled school system, the toxic substances and tainted water found in some neighborhood environments—not to mention the stresses of life that cause hardships on the body—of course Black babies often start life with compromised health, and others die at or shortly after birth.

Perhaps I should have said “Black babies from low-income communities,” since Black babies in middle class and wealthy communities are far more likely to thrive.

Last week Great Beginnings for Black Babies, Inc., celebrating 20 years of service to the community, hosted a free “State of the Black Child Symposium” at The California Endowment in Los Angeles.

Among the many fine speakers was Janette Robinson-Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness (BWW), a Liberty Hill grantee. BWW is using its current Liberty Hill grant to increase its capacity to advocate for the elimination of racial and gender disparities in health outcomes.

I spoke with Miss Robinson-Flint today about the health of African American women and babies. She made two major points: “Women’s health is holistic, and the health we have when we’re pregnant impacts the health of generations to come.”

Black Women for Wellness takes a holistic approach.  This means taking into consideration financial health, physical health, spiritual health and emotional health, and the impact all have on each other. “Health,” she told me, “is more than the absence of disease. And wealth is more than having money; It’s richness of life.”

At the symposium she made a number of points about financial health, which contributes to physical health.  But even if a woman has health insurance, she pointed out, “this doesn’t insure that appropriate care will be received.”

Miss Robinson-Flint spoke about the dangers for both the pregnant mother and her unborn child of unhealthy chemicals in personal care products and the toxic air in nail salons.

Miss Robinson-Flint spoke about all this and more at the symposium. She told me she was particularly pleased with the call to action made by Holly Mitchell, CEO of Chrystal Stairs, Inc. and a member of Liberty Hill's board of directors, who declared that we must hold the state government accountable for funding infant health programs.

As for me, I’m going to be thinking for a long time about one of Miss Robinson-Flint’s statements, which I’ll repeat here: “The health we have when we’re pregnant impacts the health of generations to come.”  What a powerful message.

More details about the symposium are covered in this LA Sentinel article.

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