Ms. EDWARDS. Mr. Speaker, September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, established to highlight the tragedy of infant deaths across the nation and to raise awareness about programs that help save young lives and ensure our children are healthy. Infant mortality, the rate at which babies die before their first birthday per 1,000 live births, continues to be a key measure of the nation's health and a worldwide indicator of health status and social well-being.
Although the overall infant mortality rate (IMR) in the United States steadily declined for several decades, it has leveled off in recent years. Preliminary data indicate that infant mortality rate in this nation declined very slightly to 6.14 in 2010.
Unfortunately, this rate continues to be higher than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average and that of most European countries. While modest improvements in the infant mortality rate, along with a national and local focus on preconception health for women of childbearing age, provide welcome changes, much work remains to be done.
In Maryland, infant mortality continues to impact women and families at startling rates. For the second year in a row, the infant mortality rate in Maryland remained at 6.7. Though a drop from the 7.2 rate of 2009, the number of infant deaths in the state remains high. Of greater concern, is the disproportionate impact infant mortality has on some communities.
In 2011, the infant mortality rate for Prince George's County was 9.5, while in neighboring Montgomery County, the rate stood at 5.3. Though both counties have made significant progress in reducing infant mortality in recent years, our collective attention must continue to focus on making further gains. Of the state's five regions, the National Capital Area, comprising Prince George's and Montgomery counties, had the second-highest rate of infant deaths. Only the Eastern Shore Area experienced a higher rate at 8.9.
Across our nation, African American communities experience more than double the rate of infant mortality compared to other populations. In Maryland, the infant mortality rate among African Americans last year was 12.0, fully three times the rate among white infants. Despite efforts to address this disturbing gap, high rates of loss occur among African Americans of all income and education levels.
National Infant Mortality Month gives us an opportunity to raise public awareness and to educate women about ways they may reduce infant mortality. With good preconception health, as well as access to good health care during the mother's pregnancy and the early years of the child's life, women can work to lower the incidence of infant mortality. Research indicates that a number of federal programs may reduce the IMR. Programs such as the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and Healthy Start are vital programs tasked with bringing awareness to factors that contribute to the nation's high IMR, including low birth weight, congenital abnormalities, and sudden infant death syndrome.
With the support of local organizations and services offered in the 4th Congressional District of Maryland, including the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and the Suitland Health and Wellness Center, we can advance a number of strategies to reduce infant mortality and help mothers and children live long and healthy lives.
I will continue to support and bring awareness to programs that increase access to health care and improve the quality of prenatal and newborn care to prevent the causes of infant mortality. As our nation recovers from these difficult economic times and families may experience gaps in health coverage due to job loss or financial instability, it is especially vital that we continue to support adequate funding for these programs. We need to ensure that our babies get a healthy start and are able to celebrate their first birthday and a lifetime of birthdays.