In the last two years, Guilford County government has put a great deal of effort into addressing infant mortality in the county, and a Wednesday, Oct. 5 press release from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) shows that tackling that problem is also a major concern for state health officials.

It noted that the department is “working collectively with more than 100 statewide partners to improve the health of all people of reproductive age, with a focus on infant mortality, maternal health and maternal mortality.”

In Guilford County, one of the major points of concern has been disparity: Minority infants are experiencing higher mortality rates than others. At the state level, as well, this is obviously a major concern.

“In North Carolina and nationally,” the October 5 press release states, “the infant and maternal mortality rates are much higher for Black infants and mothers than for infants and mothers who are white and non-Hispanic. Similar gaps are noted with American Indian/Indigenous populations.”

NCDHHS is implementing a 2022-2026 Perinatal Health Strategic Plan to improve child and family wellbeing with the goal of creating “the opportunity for every person to have good health regardless of social and economic factors.”

NCDHHS Women, Infant, and Community Wellness Section Chief Belinda Pettiford said the long pandemic had exacerbated the problem.

“Historic inequities in our economic and social systems continue to impede Black, Indigenous, and People of Color from achieving the best possible health,” Pettiford stated in the press release. “The economic and social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the urgency to ensure that individuals and families have the best possible chance at a healthy life.”

The statewide plan for child and family well-being and has three main elements: (1) addressing economic and social inequities, (2) strengthening families and communities, and (3) improving health care for all people of reproductive age.

One way that both Guilford County and the state are addressing the problem is by attempting to ensure that “people of reproductive age get the care and support they need prior to, during and after pregnancy.”

NCDHHS officials state that they’ll work with community organizations and local governments to help them “take ownership” of the different strategies in the plan.

One move will be to hire more service workers who offer care before, during and after birth.

The NCDHHS was recently awarded a community-based grant to help fund the NC Healthy Start Baby Love Plus Program. In collaboration with the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe and the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rocky Mount, funds will be used to hire and train workers to inform and aid pregnant women, new mothers and families with newborns in Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash and Pitt counties.