Infants and babies

The state is awarding $4.3 million across six agencies, including one serving South Jersey, to reduce cases of black infant and maternal deaths, officials announced Wednesday.

The Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative and five other maternal and child health agencies will use grant funding as part of the state Department of Health’s Healthy Women, Healthy Families initiative to improve health outcomes among black mothers and infants.

“It’s tragic that race determines health outcomes for some New Jersey mothers and babies,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. “Everyone — regardless of skin color — should be given an equal chance at a healthy, productive life.”

The rate of infant deaths in New Jersey — 4.7 per 1,000 live births — is lower than the national average, but it varies greatly between white and black babies, according to state data.

Infant mortality for black babies at 9.7 per 1,000 live births is more than three times the rate among white babies, data show. Black women are four more times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women.

The Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative was awarded $1.1 million of the funding to create community-based programs and services that address perinatal and maternal health care as well as racial disparities.

The cooperative serves Atlantic, Cape May, Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, Burlington and Camden counties. Special attention will be given to high-risk areas such as Camden and Atlantic City, the latter of which has an infant mortality rate of 24 per 1,000 live births over five years.

Other agencies that got grants include the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey, Central Jersey Family Healthcare Coalition, Inc., Project Self-Sufficiency of Sussex County and the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey.

The state Department of Health will also devote $450,000 to implement a doula pilot program in Newark and Trenton, two cities with high black infant mortality rates.

State officials said in addition to the Healthy Women, Healthy Families program, they plan to pursue two other initiatives that target black infant mortality.

They include expanding access to 17-alpha hydroxyprogesterone, an injection that has proven to prevent preterm births in certain women, and by offering long-acting reversible contraception, a class of contraceptives that include injections, intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and implants.

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

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

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