Rotary speaker addresses infant mortality

Wade McIntyre
Virginia Pearson of the Fetal Infant Mortality Review, center, was greeted by Rotary Club of Gonzales President Mark LaCour and Rotarian Guy Holdridge during the recent club meeting in which Pearson was guest speaker. Pearson said Louisiana has the highest infant mortality death rate in the U.S. and one of the highest in the developed nations of the world. The high rate of state children living in poverty and smoking and alcohol usage by pregnant women rank among the reasons for the high rate, she said.

Louisiana dwells at the bottom of national rankings in one of the most sensitive indicators of the state’s welfare – infant mortality, said Virginia Pearson of the Fetal Infant Mortality Review, a project of the Rotary Foundation.

Speaking at the recent Rotary Club of Gonzales meeting, Pearson said that overall the United States ranks 28 in the world with 7.0 deaths during the first year of birth per thousand live births.

Louisiana has 10.4 infant mortality deaths per thousand live births, she said.

“Louisiana consistently ranks as one of the highest states in infant mortality,” said Pearson.

Reasons for the high death rate included limited access to health care for women aged 19-44, and high and growing smoking and alcohol rates in the state. Also, less than 1/2 of Louisiana pregnancies are intended, and preventive wellness and preconception health information is lacking in the state.

Pearson said 27.5 percent of pregnant women smoked in the three months prior to pregnancy, and 15.9 percent smoked in the last trimester.

“The medical community says no alcohol during pregnancy,” Pearson said. But 6.8 percent of pregnant women drank in the last trimester and 53.4 percent drank alcohol in the three months prior to pregnancy.

Louisiana also ranks 44th in the nation in health insurance coverage, 47th for its number of children living in poverty and 44th in high school graduation rates, all contributing to infant mortality.

Louisiana ranks a relatively high sixth in the nation with its adequacy of prenatal care, Pearson said, but difficulties occur when pregnant women show up at the emergency room for delivery.

Pearson said Louisiana must address the health of women before and between pregnancies to bring about significant change in the mortality death rate.

Women will utilize services when they are readily available and they are educated about the importance of the services, she said.

Pearson also cited a national survey which tracked usage of the vitamin folic acid in women prior to and during pregnancy which showed it’s usage resulted in a 70 percent decrease in very early baby deliveries of 20 to 28 weeks gestational age.

The study showed a 50 percent reduction in 28 to 32 week gestational age deliveries.