Think globally, outrage locally.

One of the volunteers at our tiny county’s only food bank/emergency assistance provider/shelter is always wearing a t-shirt that says IF YOU AREN’T OUTRAGED YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION. He’s one of the gentlest guys I know–a middle aged black man living in rural poverty who relies on the food bank and is its most faithful volunteer. I used to give his son a lot of (unsanctioned by my employer) rides back when I was working in our nearby town. Also soft-spoken and kind. And tall and broad and one of those kids whose stupid luck ends him up in the wrong place sometimes. I worry.

But that t-shirt, oh man it makes me like that guy.

So here’s something I wasn’t paying attention to before one of my nursing colleges (Michael Swanberg, a member of ACT UP, certified nurse midwife, and enchanting human being) brought it to light. This data is pulled from the Thomas Jefferson Health District’s community health assessment, 2012. Page 54. The image quality is terrible but the dark blue is TJHD black infant mortality, teal is TJHD white infant mortality.

infant mortality image

An examination of infant mortality stratified by race demonstrates the same phenomenon in Virginia and TJHD as in the nation — African-American babies die more frequently than white babies. In 2007-2011, the rolling average IMR in TJHD was 4.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births among white infants, lower than the Virginia (5.4) and U.S. rates; it was 17.3 among African-American infants, which was higher than the Virginia (13.8) and the U.S. rates (Figure 109).

Check my math but that means that African-American neonates in our health district are nearly four times more likely to die than their white counterparts. Brand new no-jackass-on-earth-can-say-their-deaths-were-deserved babies. Are you feeling the outrage? The black neighborhoods in Charlottesville are literally in the shadow of the towers of an academic health center. Tell me how this can be.

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2 thoughts on “Think globally, outrage locally.

  1. I’ve wondered this since burying myself in that report this summer. You know the part of this story that really gets me? Black babies are more likely to die EVEN WHEN YOU CONTROL FOR MATERNAL AGE/EDUCATION/INCOME. And it’s been some time since I’ve checked the firm numbers on these two, but the infant mortality rate of babies in DC is worse than several developing countries, and black babies nationwide are more likely to be aborted than their white peers. That last part, I swear, is not be trying to open an abortion debate; I’m merely pointing out that there’s a likely story here too about black women and their access to health care…even on the hallowed grounds of our dear Little Apple.

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  2. Solid point regarding the disparity with even a controlled sample. I wish I remembered the specifics but one of Michael’s proposed interventions is screening for a vaginal infection that disproportionately affects African-American women and is currently not part of the screening panel included in prenatal care. That’s a no brainer.

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