Infants and babies

Although overall infant mortality is lower in New Jersey than the national rate, experts say the number of deaths among black infants is significantly higher than other groups, and state health officials are directing funds to end that trend.

The state Department of Health announced it will give $4.3 million in state grants to local governments, social services, health providers, faith-based organizations and other agencies to develop programs to reduce infant mortality, especially among black families.

“We need community partners across the state focused on these efforts to combat the documented lifetime cultural and racial stressors in communities of color that are negatively affecting maternal health and infant outcomes,” Commissioner Dr. Shereff Elnahal said in a statement.

The overall infant mortality rate in New Jersey is 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to state data.

Infant mortality among black infants (9.7 per 1,000 births) is more than three times that of while infants (3 per 1,000 births).

State health officials said the Healthy Women, Health Families Initiative will provide funding for as many as 12 community-based programs to target activities in high-need areas, which include Atlantic City, Camden, East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Trenton.

Atlantic City, compared with the other high-risk cities, had the highest percentages of people with obesity (71), smoking during pregnancy (18) and women 25 and older with no high school diploma (27) in 2016, according to the state Department of Health.

Applications for the grants are due May 18 and the programs are expected to begin July 1.

Successful applicants will be expected to meet long-term goals of increasing the percentage of healthy births and reducing black infant mortality.

Agency programs should include county-level activities that focus on providing high-risk families and women of child-bearing age access to information and services on child and family wellness.

They should include activities at the municipal level that focus on linking black women of childbearing age to supportive services, establishing specific black infant mortality programs and providing education and outreach to health and social service providers.

High-risk women include those with low income, no insurance, chronic health conditions, multiple social or economic stressors, mental illness, substance use disorder, minimal social supports, unintended pregnancies or victims of domestic violence.

Grant awards for five-year programs will vary based on region, project structure and activities, health officials said, and funding for the additional four years will depend on available money, according to the initiative application.

For more information on grant applications, see nj.gov/health

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Staff Writer

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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