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High baby death rate baffles SE Queens

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Ever since the fall, when the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that the infant mortality rate in southeast Queens had nearly doubled in 2003 from the year before to become the second highest in the city, advocates for pregnant women and newborns have been trying to explain the spike and address it. So far there are theories for the rise, but no concrete explanation."I was kind of surprised by that," said Pamela Davis of the Queens Comprehensive Perinatal Council. "We have to sit down and figure out exactly what's causing these babies to die."In the Health Department's Jamaica East region, which covers all of southeast Queens, the infant mortality rate jumped from 5.9 per 1,000 live births in 2002 to 10.3 in 2003, just below the 11.0 rate in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Infant mortality is defined as the death of a child below the age of one after birth. The city rate rose from 6.0 to 6.5 between the two years, while the Queens rate increased from 4.6 to 5.5.Upon releasing the figures, the Health Department said infant mortality in 2003 appeared to occur mainly in those with a low birth weight, with other factors that included the mother's health, the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs during pregnancy, accessibility to health care and socioeconomic status. The department cautioned that the one-year rise could only be a fluctuation, not a trend.But Davis said "something is actually happening." During a recent Jamaica meeting with a community coalition to address the problem, she and others speculated that immigration might have contributed to the rising rate. They said the newcomers might not know of available health resources or might be wary of public programs. They also noted a new challenge with interpretation, as many coming from Latin America speak a mix of Spanish and Indian languages indecipherable to others.Coalition members said they have also had a hard time getting into schools to promote female health because administrators are wary of upsetting parents. Still others noted the low turnout for their workshops at area homeless shelters, facilities that represent pockets of poverty within the middle-class neighborhoods of southeast Queens."This community is facing a lot," said Lisa Johnson from Southeast Queens Clergy for Community Empowerment. "There's still a lot that needs to be done."At the recent meeting, coalition members said their efforts are funded by $5 million channeled through the Health Department every year, even though they said the department takes some of the funds for administration and is slow to disperse the rest. The coalition wants a permanent $10 million allotment. The money would be used to encourage women to get health care before they get pregnant and for assistance like new communal baby showers once they do. "We have to continue to get the word out," Community Board 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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