UT System announces collaboration to reduce infant mortality rates

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System and the Texas Department of State Health Services announced a collaboration this week to reduce infant mortality rates across the state.

According to data collected by the Department of State Health Services, the Texas infant mortality rate in 2014 was 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to the national average of 6.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. While premature births can occur and lead to sudden baby death syndrome, issues among women such as obesity and smoking can lead to a higher risk of infant deaths. Certain races and ethnicities also run the risk of having higher rates of prematurity, according to the department.

David Lakey, UT System associate vice chancellor for population and a member of UT Health Northeast in Tyler, said he has been working to address infant mortality rates during his term as commissioner of State Health Services from 2007 to 2015.

While addressing this issue, Lakey said he realized infant mortality rates were more of a problem than expected while at a conference for southern states in 2010.  

“It became very apparent in the meeting that we were all struggling with the rates of infant mortality and prematurity across the southern parts of the United States,” Lakey said. “From that, we decided instead of just talking about this, we’ve got to learn from each other and figure out how to move this forward in our different states.”

In 2013, 150 individuals from healthcare and government backgrounds formed the Texas Collaborative for Healthy Mothers and Babies to come up with new plans to prevent infant mortality. This organization is also collaborating with the UT System and UT Health Northeast in Tyler on preventive solutions to infant mortality.

Carrie Williams, public information officer for the Department of State Health Services, said UT reached out to the Department of State Health Services to support the initiative.

“We were interested in partnering with an academic institution for support, and UT had the capacity and connection to public health students [or] research and UT’s plan was consistent with the work we wanted to do,” Williams said in
an email.  

As part of this collaboration, Lakey said the groups are working to address the areas of community health through preventive measures to reduce incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome and the number of cesarean sections, as well as providing more breast milk to babies in the ICU.

George Saade, chair of the Texas Collaborative for Healthy Mothers and Babies, said the collaborative’s biggest initiative focuses on educating the public about infant mortality.

“We will go to different communities in Texas,” Saade said. “We will have certain clinical care bundles or certain guidelines we will recommend to the communities, hospitals, institutions and patients telling them the importance of what to do.”

Lakey said it will take a couple of years to see the results, but based on data so far, he expects Texas’ infant mortality rate to go down.

“Our prematurity rates have come down slowly, but it’s going to take some time to really facilitate major change,” Lakey said. “We have seen significant improvement over the last five years, so I would predict that rate will continue
to decrease.”