Kalamazoo, MI
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Health Disparities: Why Infants are Dying in Kalamazoo

Francisco Lopez, K’19, discusses infant mortality rates Francisco Lopez, K’19, discusses infant mortality rates

Black infants are four times more likely to die than their white neighbors in Kalamazoo, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH). Infant mortality, or the number of infants dying before their first birthday, can be used as an indicator of structural or racial inequalities. Last Wednesday, Alison Geist’s “Issues in Public Health” class presented on this issue.

“I’m interested in public health—I see it as different from medical care because it’s about the well being of the individual and the community,” said Francisco Lopez, K’17, a member of the class.

The presentation began with how K College is an integral part of the city of Kalamazoo, citing bodies such as K’s Center for Civic Engagement as links to the broader community. The class hoped to educate the students and staff on the pressing subject of infant mortality and offer opportunities for hands-on engagement with the issue.

The class defined a health disparity as “the differences in access to health that are historically linked to discrimination and exclusion.”

What does this disparity look like? Let’s talk numbers.

  • The national Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) was 6.0 deaths per 1000 live births in 2015
  • Michigan’s IMR is slightly above the national average at 7.1
  • Kalamazoo’s IMR has decreased from 10.2 (2001-2003) to 6.4 (2010-2012)

While Kalamazoo’s overall IMR has decreased, the disparity between black infant deaths and white infants actually increased between 2002 to 2013. Infants born to families below the poverty line and to people of color have a significantly higher risk of death before their first birthday, according to the MDCH.

The presenters discussed Cradle Kalamazoo, the multilevel, multi-agency intervention campaign working against infant death in the community.

Cradle is an initiative lead by the YWCA that brings together a variety of community partners, such as Bronson Healthcare and our own Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, for collaborative action. The program emphasizes cultural competency, and requires all of their participants to complete anti-racism training with the YWCA.

One example of their work is the “Safe to Sleep’ campaign, which began in 1992. This program teaches the basic tenants of safe sleeping for infants to new mothers. Since its inception, there has been a significant decrease in Kalamazoo’s IMR. Other interventions include a Fetal Infant Mortality Review board, in-home visitations to families with newborns, and community education on reproductive health.

The “Issues in Public Health” students worked closely with Cradle’s partners, allowing the needs of the community to drive their class’s projects. From their research and presentation, the class hopes to design a First Year Forum on infant mortality to provide students with more exposure to the topic. The class hopes that K students will engage in internships or volunteer positions with Cradle and the YWCA in a greater capacity in the future.


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Health Disparities: Why Infants are Dying in Kalamazoo