The Akron chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, in partnership with the Baby 1st Network, hosted a community health forum at Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Sunday to discuss and encourage community involvement in preventing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related causes of infant death in African-American communities especially.
Dr. Stacy Scott, the program coordinator of Baby 1st Network, was the keynote speaker, sharing information with nearly 100 people who attended the forum.
Among other infant mortality efforts, Scott has worked with chapters of the fraternity across the country the last year and a half since they formed the Kappa Alpha Psi Safe Infant Sleep Initiative as part of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Safe to Sleep campaign. The fraternity is expanding its outreach efforts this month in infant mortality “hot spots,” like urban areas in Ohio, by holding SIDS Risk Reduction Sundays in churches and other accessible areas.
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and National Development (NICHD) approached the fraternity as a way to get fathers more involved in infant care.
“We have always targeted mothers, and we felt it was time to ask men to get involved because we know it takes two,” said Scott, who also works with NICHD.
In her presentation, Scott outlined the disparity between black and white infant deaths not only nationwide, but also in the state and county. Black babies are affected over twice as much as white babies.
Ohio was ranked 45th in infant mortality in the country by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2015. Scott said in Summit County alone, for every 1,000 live births in 2015, there were about six white infant deaths and about 13 black infant deaths, even though African-Americans only make up about 14 percent of the county.
Sleep-related causes accounted for about 18 percent of those infant deaths.
Scott attributes the disproportionate effect on African-Americans to both socioeconomic factors and additional stressors they have because of their race.
“I want you to understand that even though we look at this disproportionate representation of communities of color, we should not interpret that as an indictment on us,” Scott said. “I don’t want you all to leave here saying ‘what’s the point,’ but I want you to understand that it is a reflection of the long-term impact of poverty, segregation, discrimination and racism.”
SIDS is the leading cause of infant death for babies one month to one year of age and the third-leading cause of infant mortality in the U.S. SIDS itself isn’t fully preventable, as new research shows it may be an abnormality in the brain stem that can’t be detected until an autopsy. Other sleep-related causes of infant mortality are preventable, though.
Scott said to prevent those deaths, infants should always sleep on their backs in firm sleeping areas, like cribs, that are in the same room but separate from the parents. Soft and loose bedding and toys should be kept out of the crib. Scott also encourages parents to use prenatal care, breast-feed and avoid cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.
Also at the forum were several smaller organizations, like the Mount Cavalry Baptist Church Nurses Ministry, which is dedicated to reducing infant mortality in the area. The nurses have developed several workshops and curricula centered on infant care they’ll begin implementing in other churches in the upcoming months.
“It makes it comfortable for different congregations to have workshops in their own church,” said Jane Dancy, a nurse at Mount Cavalry. “It’s gonna take all of us to make a difference in the community.”
Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, played a large role in getting funding for the cause from Medicaid, which awarded a grant to several organizations to reach out in a grass-roots style.
“They’re much closer to the community and can deliver the message in a much more culturally competent way,” Sykes said.
“This is a community problem that requires community solutions. … I’m very hopeful to see the fruits of this labor.”
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom