MEMPHIS — The infant mortality rate in Memphis is up, illustrating the challenge faced by health officials, hospitals and community leaders who are fighting to reduce the number of babies who die before their first birthdays, officials said.
Two straight years of significant decline led officials last year to praise a concerted, community-wide effort to address the infant mortality rate, a measure considered to be a good indicator of the general health of a community.
But an uptick in the rate has caused some concern, tempered by hope and determination.
The health department in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, reports that the infant mortality rate in 2012, the latest year for which data are available, was 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. That's up from 9.6 in 2011 and 10.3 the year before, though not as high as the nearly 15 babies per 1,000 live births reported by the county 11 years ago.
The health department has enlisted help from national and community organizations, social workers, faith-based groups, businesses and hospitals in its campaign. They've sought to improve what experts call the "social determinants" of health, including education, income and living conditions. Other targets are reducing teenage pregnancies and improving prenatal care, nutrition and stress management for expecting mothers.
Shelby County ranked worst in infant mortality in 2003, according to an Associated Press analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for large U.S. counties with more than 12,000 births that year. Ranking just below were the counties that include Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, along with Prince George's County, Md., in suburban Washington.
The rate of 15 baby deaths per 1,000 live births in 2003 was worse than many developing nations, including French Guiana, Kuwait, Lithuania and others.
Nationally, the United States' infant mortality rate was 6.05 per 1,000 live births in 2011, the most recent year for which national statistics were available, according to the CDC. The 2011 rate is a marked improvement from 2003, when it was 6.84.