Wisconsin Partnership Program Aims to Reduce Infant Mortality

Earlier this decade, an African-American baby born in Beloit, Kenosha, Milwaukee or Racine had worse odds for survival than a baby born in Jamaica, Sri Lanka or Central America.

In 2004, Wisconsin had the worst African American infant mortality rate of 35 states that reported deaths by race. That year, 125 African American babies died in the first year following their births, a rate of 19.2 deaths per 1,000 births. While the rate dropped in 2007, the most recent year for statistics, to 14.1 deaths for African American babies in Milwaukee, it still remains far above the death rate for white babies, 6.2 deaths per thousand. The most common factors contributing to the deaths of African-American infants were premature birth and low birth weight.

Now, after convening a summit conference on the issue and commissioning an in-depth paper, the Wisconsin Partnership Program is committing up to $10 million in a long-term effort to improve the chances for Wisconsin's African American newborns.

"Birth outcomes in Wisconsin will only improve if we all commit to programs that will make a difference," says Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH). "Our school, through the Wisconsin Partnership Program, and our faculty and staff are committed to forming community partnerships to address this important public health problem."

Philip Farrell, former dean of UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Lorraine Lathen, executive director of Jump at the Sun Consultants, will co-chair the Healthy Birth Outcomes steering committee, which is composed of leaders from the affected communities and UW-Madison faculty.

"It's a tragedy because these deaths are preventable," says Farrell, a professor of pediatrics and population health sciences and former UW School of Medicine and Public Health dean. "We know the key will lie in improving health measures for African American women across their life spans, and in better prenatal care. Mother and child health are inextricably linked. This effort is designed to improve the health of generations to come."