Saving young lives

March 22, 1991

Each year, one in 100 babies born in this country dies before its first birthday, an infant mortality rate higher than that in most every other country in the industrialized world. In Maryland, the statistics are more troubling: Here, 11.3 babies out of 1,000 die before age 1. The rate is even higher in Baltimore city, where 17.43 out of every 1,000 newborns die within a year after birth. A new study from the Children's Defense Fund ranks Baltimore city third in the nation in infant deaths for cities its size -- with the worst infant mortality rate for white babies and the seventh-worst for black babies.

The problems underlying these statistics are diverse. Some babies, for instance, are born perilously underweight because their mothers are drug-addicted; some because their mothers are malnourished. Some mothers are carriers of AIDS; some smoke and drink their way through a pregnancy they never wanted in the first place. The barriers to receiving prenatal care vary as well -- from inadequate public transportation and lack of day care for other children to poverty, ignorance or simple lack of a public health clinic. Clearly, the traditional, broad-brush approaches to reducing infant death rates are simply not working.

Now comes a proposal from Del. Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton, and Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore City, to establish a state commission on infant mortality to tackle the problem from another angle -- designing and implementing different strategies to reach different groups of women. The practical, fiscal arguments alone argue convincingly for the passage of this bill -- care of an infant born severely underweight, for instance, costs taxpayers some $20,000 on average, far more than the price tag of prevention. Still, the moral argument is stronger: A baby born in Baltimore city now has less of a chance of living to age 1 than a child born in Trinidad and Tobago. That's a disgrace Marylanders cannot abide.

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