A guest post from our friends at ROOTT (Restoring Our Own Through Transformation), a Black women-led reproductive justice organization in Columbus dedicated to collectively restoring well-being through self-determination, collaboration, and resources to meet the needs of women and families within Black communities. 

According to data from Columbus Public Health regarding infant mortality, statistics show a decrease in white infant death and an increase in Black infant death in Franklin County from January through July 2017. However, this data – based on the “success” of the Safe Sleep initiative of Celebrate One – is only one piece of the overall picture and is often interpreted in targeted increments.

Without explanation of what it truly means, the general public can be left with an incomplete understanding of the complexities surrounding the numbers. It is the in between, or the disparate gap, that tells an entirely different story.

As healthcare professionals and leaders of organizations dedicated to the support of communities most negatively impacted by these health outcomes, we provide the necessary, evidence-based services (doulas, support circles, etc.) to center the voices and needs of Black women.

While there is a decrease in infant mortality as it relates to safe sleep practices, the statistics clearly show we still need to address areas of risk within the Black community – one that encompasses cultural awareness and structural barriers created as a consequence of institutional racism.

4.7 per 1000 deaths for white infants and 15.6 per 1000 deaths for Black infants, while noteworthy, is not derived from unsafe sleep practices as the primary cause.

Safe Sleep programs do not cover the gaps when those deaths only account for 7 of 88 babies who have died during a short time period. They do not account for our mothers who died or had “near misses” during childbirth. They do not address our root causes, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, or racism as a health risk factor. And they certainly do not account for physiological changes due to stress from lived experiences, or the structural determinants of poverty that create health issues.

Statistical analysis is an important aspect of research and initiative building. But it matters how progress and gaps in health programs are evaluated and interpreted.

Considering the current myopic focus on Safe Sleep programs, Columbus Public Health should release infant mortality data through more comprehensive and accessible means. A more holistic view of the numbers is needed to encompass other risk factors leading to infant death.

Black race is not a health risk factor. Exposure to racism is.

Written by:

  • Jessica M. Roach, LPN, MPH(c) Founder and Executive Director ROOTT
  • DL Wingard, MPA Midwest Strategies, LLC
  • Monica McLemore, RN, MPH, PhD Assistant Professor UCSF School of Nursing