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County's infant mortality rate high

No, it wasn't officials airing their dirty laundry.

But motorists going down Main Street recently might have been surprised to see a clothesline on the lawn of the McDuffie County Courthouse in Thomson.

Actually, the line of baby-sized T-shirts was put there to convey a message about the high rate of infant mortality in McDuffie County. A total of 47 infants have died before their 1st birthday in the last 10 years in McDuffie County, said Jodi Hudgins, the clinical services director for Enterprise Community Healthy Start Initiative.

Because September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month, ECHSI representatives asked Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry to do a proclamation to go along with a walk and education event on Labor Day weekend in front of the courthouse.

"We wanted people to be aware that some of this can be prevented and we wanted people to understand that this is a concern for the community. ... It was not a fundraiser, it was simply an awareness raiser," Ms. Hudgins said.

Forty-seven pastel-colored onesies hung on the clothesline, each one representing an infant that had died. Ms. Hudgins said families with babies in strollers came and participated in a walk down Main Street, and educational materials addressing premature delivery, birth defects, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and car seat safety were distributed.

"We want people to be aware and to do things in their lives to prevent future problems," she said.

The McDuffie average infant mortality rate for 10 years of 14.3 is unacceptable when compared with the national average of 6.8, Ms. Hudgins said.

"So basically, if McDuffie County had the same rate as the national average, 20 fewer babies would have died in that 10 year period," she said. "That is significant."

The number one reason of infant deaths is premature birth. Healthy Start offers free programs, classes and services such as care by registered nurses for pregnant women, parental support groups, childbirth preparation classes, parenting classes and breastfeeding counseling. The program is available in McDuffie and Burke counties and is supported by various federal agencies.

"Part of what we do is try to reduce infant mortality rates by encouraging women to be healthier before they get pregnant, space their pregnancies apart and plan their pregnancies," Ms. Hudgins said.

Poor health before pregnancy greatly increases the risk of infant death, and for every infant who dies, thousands more suffer long-term ill health or defects, according to ECHSI literature.

In Thomson, the Enterprise Community Health Start Initiative office is located on Hill Street in the IGA shopping center. Dr. Sandra Mobley serves as the director.

Laura Tucker and Erica Hamilton are the registered nurses and Betty Burnette is the case manager at the McDuffie office.

For more information, call 706-597-0364.

Web posted on Thursday, September 24, 2009

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