CHICAGO – Grammy winning recording artist Common joined Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary (IDHS) Carol L. Adams, Ph.D., and health professionals today to announce the second phase of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s new initiative to reduce the mortality rate among African American infants. The “Closing the Gap on Infant Mortality” campaign administered by IDHS and several community agencies was launched last year to help prevent premature births and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Closing the Gap targets the four community areas of Chicago with the highest numbers of pre-term births and SIDS deaths; Auburn-Gresham, Austin, Englewood and West Englewood.
“Our goal is to make early and regular prenatal care available to all expecting women in Illinois,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Our Closing the Gap campaign brings together state and community resources to increase awareness and make a difference in the African American community.”
“We thank Gov. Blagojevich for his commitment to the health of African American families and we really appreciate the support from a celebrity such as Common whose commitment will help make the campaign a success,” said Secretary Adams. “Every baby in Illinois deserves a chance to thrive and be healthy.”
Ads featuring Common will be posted on 500 CTA buses and trains starting in mid-March on the green and red lines. Messages focus on preventing SIDS and prematurity. The ads say “Saving our babies, saving our future,” and urge people to take action and get early and regular prenatal care. More information or help in finding a healthcare provider is available by calling 311.
Advertisements in the campaign will address other aspects of infant mortality reduction, including infant sleep position, smoking, use of prenatal care, and other factors.
This campaign is being supported by a "Closing the Health Gap Initiative on Infant Mortality" grant from the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Illinois is one of four states selected to receive one of these grants because of size and history of the disparity between black and white infant mortality rates.
IDHS, with assistance from an advisory group, selected the Austin, Englewood, West Englewood and Auburn-Gresham communities in the city of Chicago as the project's target areas. These communities have infant mortality rates more than double the state as a whole. African-American infants are three times more likely than white infants to die before reaching one year of age.
Premature birth is the leading cause of death for newborns in the first month of life. Infants who are born prematurely - before 37 weeks of pregnancy - are also at risk for cerebral palsy, blindness, and other chronic conditions. More than 22,650 infants were born too soon in Illinois in 2002 - nearly 13 percent of all births. Black infants were nearly twice as likely as white infants to be born prematurely.
SIDS is also more common among black infants. The state’s overall mortality rate due to SIDS has been steadily declining and reached 66.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, based on 366 deaths between 1998 and 2000. Just over half (192 or 52 percent) of these deaths occurred among black infants, whereas black infants comprise only 19 percent of all live births.
While the causes of SIDS remain unclear, the SIDS death rate in Illinois has fallen significantly in the last few years as a result of Sudden Infant Death Services of Illinois and others promoting the American Academy of Pediatrics “Back to Sleep” campaign to encourage parents to lay infants on their backs for sleep. Infants who sleep in this position are much less likely to die from SIDS. There are other things that parents can do to avoid the accidental death of their infants. Two of the most important are placing the child to sleep alone in a safe crib, rather than in the same bed with an adult, and keeping soft bedding—such as bumper pads, pillows, heavy blankets and stuffed animals – out of the baby’s crib.
The Illinois Department of Human Services is working with the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, SIDS of Illinois, the Illinois Chapter of the March of Dimes, Chicago Health Connection, Access Community Health Network and the Chicago Department of Public Health to implement this campaign.
Access Community Health Network and the Chicago Department of Public Health currently receive federal funds to reduce the infant mortality rate in these communities. The new initiative will bring these and other state- and city-funded efforts together to ensure that every family with a pregnant woman or a baby receives the health care and other services they need.
Ms. Angela Ellison, director of the project for the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, said, “Closing the Gap is pleased to have the second phase of our media campaign feature a popular artist such as Common as our spokesperson. We believe that having a celebrity who is from Chicago represent and deliver these important messages will give greater exposure to the problem of infant mortality. Babies are the future and this campaign is about informing the community on how we can help our babies get a healthy start.”
In addition to the media campaign, the new initiative provides training for people from these communities to serve as “peer educators.” These people will make presentations to community groups about the problems of premature birth and SIDS in the target communities.
The Chicago Health Connection is training the peer educators to promote healthy practices and advocate for healthier communities. These natural leaders have a deep knowledge of their own communities, and are powerful communicators of culturally-appropriate health promotion messages.