Memphis, TN- A startling number of babies are dying in Memphis every year, one every 43 hours. Statistics show Memphis has the highest infant mortality rate in the country.
The highest risk area is the 38108 zip code of North Memphis. Statistics show more babies die here than in a third world country.
Danita Owens, who is six months pregnant, admits to smoking during her pregnancy. She was having a cigarette when we knocked on her door.
"Basically a lot goes on in Memphis. A lot of us women don't tend to our health how we should. I've had a couple of family members who have lost their babies. It was something to do with heart failure," says Owens.
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton is aware of the high infant mortality rate. He is proposing a widespread ad campaign, including billboards and TV commercials educating about infant mortality.
But women in north Memphis say a more hands on approach would be opening a low income prenatal clinic for women without insurance.
"I would support that,” says Mayor Wharton. “It will take money and support, but this is a priority."
Antoinette Holman, coordinator for the Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, says there is talk of having a mobile prenatal care clinic drive into neighborhoods in need.
There are programs out there for pregnant women in the city of Memphis. The Shelby County Health Department publishes a free manual called the "Happy Birthday Baby Book". It is a month by month guide to nutrition and prenatal care. For a free copy call 1-800-552-2297.
The “March of Dimes” has two local offices for pregnant women, one at 2175 Business Center Drive #7 near Covington Pike and Raleigh Lagrange Road. Call (901) 385-8580 for more information. There is another location at 6590 Kirby Center Cove in Hickory Hill near Kirby Parkway and Winchester. Call (901) 365-1045 for more information.
Congressman Steve Cohen is also speaking out on the infant mortality issue. Cohen says last year he hosted a Capitol Hill briefing, bringing along doctors from “The Med”. Since then, Cohen says he has met with nurses, midwives and other health care professionals to find out what they think needs to be done to combat the problem.
University of Memphis professors Craig Leake and David Appleby spent the past two years shooting a documentary about infant mortality. They followed visiting nurses to the homes of pregnant women; they visited the Regional Medical Center’s Neonatal unit, and talked to healthcare providers about the problem.
Leake says there is a relation between the premature deaths and the lack of social and community services. He adds, “The babies arise from neighborhoods with poor schools, locked community centers and no supermarkets.”
Appleby says the trend of babies dying prematurely can be reversed but it will take time
“It will take the government and community working together to solve this.”