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Cuyahoga County Infant Mortality Rate Drops, But Racial Disparities Persist

Despite a slight drop in Cuyahoga County's overall infant mortality rate, black babies are still more than 3.5 times more likely to die than white babies. [Michael Jung / Shutterstock]
sleeping mother and baby

Preliminary data show the infant mortality rate has dropped for every demographic in Cuyahoga County in 2019 except white babies, for which it increased slightly. The overall rate in 2019 (not counting December) was 7.75 per 1,000 live births, compared to 8.65 in 2018.

Although the African American infant mortality rate dropped from 15.49 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018 down to 13.97 in 2019, Cuyahoga County Board of Health statistician Richard Stacklin said black babies are still more than 3.5 times more likely to die than white babies.

He said in 2020 the county needs to address societal factors that contribute to this disparity, like racism.

“Until we fix some of those societal and environmental issues that are impacting African American infants and African Americans in our community, we’ll have a hard time tackling that number,” Stacklin said.

He also said prematurity is still the leading cause of infant mortality in Cuyahoga County, as it has been for many years. More than 10 percent of all births in the county this year have been pre-term births, and the county also saw a high number of babies born extremely premature — before 22 weeks — in the first half of the year.

"We really need to crack the nut on prematurity, because, at the city of Cleveland and the county, we have a very high pre-term birth rate compared to many other locations around the country,” Stacklin said. “There are medical as well as social, environmental, institutional racism, [and] chronic stress issues."

First Year Cleveland, a public health coalition focused on decreasing infant mortality in the city, will focus on providing more information to pregnant women about labor and delivery emergencies next year, according to Stacklin.

They’re also working alongside Better Health Partnership to collect data and use it to improve services. 


Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.