Mississippi's infant mortality challenge
Doctors try to improve the odds for state's newborns
May 14, 1999
JACKSON, Mississippi (CNN) -- Doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are trying to prevent newborn Jasmine Jones from becoming another statistic in the state with the nation's highest infant mortality rate.
Delivered after a troubled pregnancy, she faces possible kidney and liver failure.
Keeping Jasmine and many of Mississippi's other sickest and tiniest babies alive is a challenge for doctors in the hospital's intensive care unit.
Of every 1,000 infants born in the state, 11 die within the first year of life, according to federal government figures for 1996.
Washington, D.C. led the nation with an infant mortality rate of 14.9 per 1,000 -- more than double the national average of 7.2.
In Mississippi, the problem finds its roots in poverty, race and a high rate of teen-age pregnancy.
"If you're instilled in poverty and you don't have a nuclear family about you, a family structure, and you don't have a job, then those babies, regardless of race are going have a higher infant mortality rate than any others," said Dr. John Morrison, the hospital's director of obstetrics and gynecology.
Half of the babies born in Mississippi are black. While poor mothers may not get enough prenatal and neonatal care, Dr. Christina Glick, an intensive care physician at the hospital, told CNN that even African-American infants born to affluent mothers suffer greater mortality rates than whites.
Doctors are unsure why.
As for teen pregnancies, Glick said the problem is both medical and psychological. "The teen-agers just can't deal with pregnancies and complicated pregnancies and then sick babies as if they were more mature. They can't do it."
But Stacy Harris, a new mom and a teen-ager, said she will try. "No more going out, hanging with friends. No games for me," she said.
No games for the doctors either. They're charged with keeping an average of 1,000 very sick babies alive in Mississippi every year. Despite their efforts, they'll lose about 100 of them.
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