MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The infant mortality rate in Alabama has fallen to historic lows, according to new data released Wednesday by the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Infant mortality is when an infant is born alive but dies before he or she’s birthday, according to ADPH officials.
In 2018 there were seven deaths per 1,000 live births, a state record low. The previous year it was 7.4, and in 2016 it was at 9.1 deaths per 1,000. That translates to 405 deaths in 2018, 435 deaths in 2017 and 537 deaths in 2016 of children before reaching their first birthday.
Alabama also saw a 37 percent decrease in Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUIDS), the number of teen births fall to 6.9, and the number of births to mothers who smoke dropped to 8.7.
While the news is good, there is room for improvement. Alabama still trails the 2017 national average of 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. 2018 national averages have not yet been released.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said contributing factors to infant mortality include lack of access to health care and poverty.
“The big driver in infant mortality are the social determinants of health," he said. "It’s race, poverty, and education level and all those issues that are social issues. Those are very hard for us to fix with a prescription or with a trip to the hospital but those are things that need to be fixed on a more fundamental level.”
Dr. Harris said it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what decreased the infant mortality rate. However, he said ADPH officials have created more educational programs to help parents improve their health, which would in turn would help the baby.
There also continues to be a longstanding disparity in the rate of deaths among black and white infants. While the mortality rate of white infants fell to 5.1 in 2018, the black infant mortality rate is at 11.
“Infant mortality is tied up in poverty rates and in educational levels. It’s tied up in race and it’s tied up in geographic location within the state and so when you have particular issues with infant mortality you expect issues with other health outcomes as well," Harris said.
Graphs and detailed charts are available at the Alabama Department of Public Health website at http://alabamapublichealth.gov/healthstats/assets/IM_18.pdf