By Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) - 11/16/09 11:20 PM EST
The United States ranks 30th in the world in infant mortality incidents and, while there are many causes for infant mortality, the lack of access to quality, affordable and comprehensive healthcare is a significant part of the problem. In 2005, 68.6 percent of all infant deaths occurred to preterm infants, up from 65.6 percent in 2000.
The bottom line is that that the infant mortality rate of a nation is an important indicator of that nation’s overall health. It is an issue that sweeps from urban to rural communities across our entire country, but the statistics in my district are particularly troubling.
The infant mortality rate in Tennessee’s 9th district is the highest in the U.S. and five times the national average at 6.86 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2005, one Memphis ZIP code had an infant mortality rate that was deadlier for babies than the countries of Vietnam, Iran and El Salvador.
We must do more to make sure that women have the resources they need to deliver healthy babies — and that starts by improving access to health clinics and recruiting the best and brightest medical students to be inner city doctors. At the same time, we need a much more expanded outreach, education and research program. My legislation, the Nationally Enhancing the Wellbeing of Babies through Outreach and Research Now (NEWBORN) Act, is intended to lay the foundation for that effort.
In September, the House of Representatives unanimously went on record to pass a resolution calling for a greater national commitment to fight infant mortality. I commend the HHS Office of Minority Health for its outreach efforts to end the racial disparities related to socioeconomic status that impede access to pre-natal medical care and education.
Infant mortality is preventable, but only if we make the issue a national priority. The NEWBORN Act will give us the tools and resources we need to make that happen.
Cohen is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.