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Infant mortality

At the annual Labor of Love infant mortality summit last year in Indianapolis, these 600 pairs of baby socks represented the number of Hoosiers who every year don't survive to their first birthdays.

No community within one of the most affluent nations in the world should see as many babies die as a third-world country experiences.

But black East Chicago infants have a 1 in 36 chance of dying before reaching their first birthdays.

Black women residing in that city are more at risk of losing a baby than anywhere else in Indiana. East Chicago's black immortality rate is on par with the third-world countries of Zimbabwe and Guatemala.

These are just a few of the staggering statistics cited in a recent investigative series by Times health reporter Giles Bruce.

The findings, gleaned from state health data recently compiled and made public, show an unacceptable problem that should command priority attention from lawmakers and public health officials.

It's a major stain on the entire state.

Indiana, where about 600 babies die each year before their first birthdays, has the eighth-highest infant mortality rate out of all states.

If the state lowered its rate to the national average, 118 fewer infants would die each year.

Many of these deaths are preventable, so the real questions are why is it happening and what can be done?

In 2013, the Indiana State Department of Health declared reducing infant mortality a top priority. State lawmakers allocated more than $17 million since then to grants for nonprofits, developing a mobile app for pregnant women and a marketing campaign focused on safe infant sleep practices and prenatal care.

Meanwhile, the death rate ticked up from 7.1 per 1,000 in 2013 to 7.3 in 2015.

Experts cite the suffocating effects of poverty as impacting child mortality rates, including poor prenatal care and diet of expectant mothers or newborns.

East Chicago has a shortage of primary care providers, including OB-GYN specialists. Nearly 36 percent of East Chicago residents, including about half of children younger than 5, live in poverty.

The core problems contributing to this unacceptably high death rate of infants locally and throughout the state didn't appear overnight.

These aren't potholes that can be quickly patched to buy more time.

State lawmakers and health officials must use this data as a stirring call to action for building long-term approaches to a problem that's literally killing off our future at its very root.

Indiana has rightly earned a reputation for prosperity through fiscal frugality. But that mantle should not come at the expense of innocent children trying to survive past their first year of existence.


Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Local News Editor Marc Chase, Lake County Editor Crista Zivanovic, Porter/LaPorte County Editor Doug Ross and Deputy Local Editor Erin Orr.