COLUMBUS - Ohio's infant-mortality rate is one of the worst in the nation, and a new effort will focus on trying to improve it, state health officials said.
The national rate dropped by 11 percent from 2000 to 2010, but it increased 3 percent in Ohio over that period. The state's infant-mortality rate of 7.7 per 1,000 births ranks 48th in the nation. The rate for black babies is 49th.
The Ohio Department of Health said the top causes of infant deaths here include low birth weight, birth defects and SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
A 2012 annual report issued by the Trumbull County Child Fatality Review Board reports that in comparison to other counties in Ohio, Trumbull is considered to have a low number of child deaths.
Although the report does not address infant deaths specifically, it points out that as prematurity is the leading cause of infant mortality in Ohio, it also accounts for 30 percent, or almost a third, of all infant deaths in Trumbull.
Also, sleep-related deaths accounted for 18 percent of all child related deaths in Trumbull from 2001-10, the report states. Although data in the report show that there are few SIDS cases in the county, it still accounts for 33 percent of all sleep-related deaths for children up to age 5 in Trumbull.
Dr. Ted Wymyslo, the state health department director, said infant mortality is a community problem and that many deaths can be prevented by improving health even before conception.
On Tuesday, Wymyslo announced a new partnership among local health departments, the state department and CityMatCH, an organization that connects health agencies to solve problems. It will focus on trying to halt the high mortality rates and address the widening gap between white and black rates.
The partnership allows Ohio's urban centers to tap national experts and a wealth of information about the issue, Wymyslo said.
"There's no reason to justify that if you're a black infant born in Ohio, you have 2.5 times the risk of dying before your birthday than if you were a white infant born in Ohio," he said.
State Sens. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, and Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, said they plan to bring the issue to Senate health discussions.
Jones, who chairs the Medicaid, Health and Human Services committee, said meetings are planned across the state with local health leaders and the public so lawmakers can better understand the problem.
"No matter how we slice this problem, it's significant," Jones told reporters Tuesday. "It's way worse than the national average."
With seven medical schools, nursing schools, medical-research facilities and a variety of high-quality hospitals, "it's a surprise to everyone that our outcomes really aren't indicative of the capability we have in our delivery system," Wymyslo said. "This is not just a problem of delivery rooms."