Virginia Says Infant Mortality Rate at All-Time Low in 2008

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

RICHMOND, Aug. 4 -- Virginia's infant mortality rate has dipped to its lowest level ever, state officials said Tuesday.

The overall rate decreased from 7.7 deaths per 1,000 births in 2007 to 6.7 deaths per 1,000 births last year. The rate for African Americans -- consistently higher than for the general population -- decreased from 15.5 to 12.2 deaths per 1,000 births.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) released the statistics Tuesday at a news conference outside the state Capitol attended by state officials, health officials and a handful of mothers and babies.

"Today is the first bit of really good news we have that the efforts we are all undertaking on infant mortality are working," Kaine said. "I don't think it would be the norm that you would expect a drop of this kind in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s."

The infant mortality rate is calculated using the number of children who die before they are a year old. The rate in Virginia has been trending down, dropping from 12.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 1982. But it has remained consistently higher than the national average, which was 6.5 deaths per 1,000 births last year.

A study released last week by the Maryland-based Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Virginia 29th in infant mortality using data from 2000 to 2006.

Kaine, whose four-year term ends in January, had set a goal in 2006 of reducing the rate to fewer than seven deaths per 1,000 births.

State officials attribute the reduction to the creation of a commission on infant mortality in 2006 and to programs that provide better prenatal care for low-income women and more information on pregnancy and young children. The state also gave $100,000 apiece to the 10 localities with the highest number of infant deaths, including Fairfax and Prince William counties.

"Education plays a critical role in preventing infant deaths, and the more we engage organizations throughout our communities, the more successful our initiatives will be," State Health Commissioner Karen Remley said.

Virginia has been keeping records on infant mortality since 1913.

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