For every 1,000 children born in Tennessee, about nine die before their first birthday. A study committee of state lawmakers wants more time to search for answers.
State Representative Debra Maggart, a Hendersonville Republican, says her committee on infant mortality and teen pregnancy has met four times, heard hours of testimony, and is still wrestling with the size of the problem.
“We have the rate of a third world country when it comes to infant mortality.”
Maggart says the high rate of infant deaths is closely tied with teen pregnancy and women unprepared for a first pregnancy.
“The problem that we’re finding is that people just won’t get prenatal care, they won’t quit smoking. We’ve learned in East Tennessee, that 42 percent of pregnant women smoke. I mean, that is a stunning, a stunning number.”
The committee must recommend some approach to a problem already being faced by the state departments of health, mental health, and education. And somehow those recommendations must fit into a year with no money for new programs.
Representative Maggart has asked for an extension of the study committee until April 1, 2010.
Maggart is routing House Resolution 225 through the legislative system, simply asking for more time to finish the study. The original study was called for last year in House Resolution 82, which wasn’t a slam dunk – five members voted against the study.
Tennessee’s rate is 9.0 deaths per 1,000 live births, much worse than the national average of 6.9 per 1,000 live births. In 2007, some 13,809 teenagers were pregnant in the state. The study committee is looking for a direct correlation between the two figures.
The committee is made up of three Republicans and three Democrats. Republicans are Maggart, Dale Ford and Barrett Rich; Democrats are Mark Stewart, JoAnne Favors and Jeanne Richardson. Both sides appear stunned – in Maggart’s words – by the enormity of the problem. Maggart:
“We’re now trying to figure out, how do you get people to realize that they should take care of their unborn child, and take care of themselves, because I really do believe, after this study committee, the state of Tennessee is doing everything we can all think of to try to combat our terrible infant mortality rate.”
Countries are listed by their infant mortality rate in the online CIA World Factbook.
Of 224 reporting countries, the U.S. is 44th from the top (2009 estimates). If Tennessee were a country, it would be 65th – between Ukraine, at 8.98 deaths per 1,000 live births, and Macedonia, with 9.01.
This list, from Wikipedia, gives a comparable list from the United Nations World Population Prospects report, 2006. On the UN list, the U.S. is 33rd best in the world. Iceland, Singapore and Japan are one, two, three on the list.