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For Your HealthThis Little Light of Ours: Saving Our Community’s ChildrenI was two months pregnant with my first child when I be- came aware of our community’s infant mortality crisis.Still a little shell- shocked from the discovery that Iwas pregnant, I was tentative and keeping things quiet, careful to avoid doing any- thing that might endanger this tiny little being. It was during this time that I heard a presentation by Cathy Kothari, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at WMed’s Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Western Michigan University. Dr. Kothari spoke on the data, trends and disparities of infant mortality rates.I remember most how shocked and sickened I felt when I grasped for the first time that black babies were four times more likely to die before their first birthday than their white counterparts.Four years later, my son has celebratedthree happy birthdays, and I have a new- born. Yet our community’s black babies are still dying at a rate three times higher than white babies.Dynamic collaboration is taking place regionally around infant mortality, the fruit of seeds planted by advocates and activists like Dr. Arthur James. They have worked tirelessly – and often thanklessly – to bring this issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness.United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region is now working withpassionate, diverse partners to increase awareness of this crisis and to fundamen- tally change the broken systems that are creating these outcomes.Infant mortality rate (IMR) is common- ly used to measure of the overall health and well-being of children and the community. It’s a good indicator the status of maternal health, the accessibility and quality of pri- mary health care, and the availability of supportive services. Businesses often con- sider infant mortality rates, among other measures, in deciding where to locate or expand.In short, this issue is about the health of children, of families, of our economy, and of our community as a whole.For me, this is deeply personal work because of my children. Because hearing the stories of the families impacted has changed me. Because so many of these deaths are preventable.It should be deeply personal to all of us. Losing a single child’s light – their im- measurable potential – hurts the soul of our community.Here’s the good news: Together we’re making progress. United Way recently is- sued a community report that shared some of that progress. In 2017, 85 percent of African-American moms in United Way supported programs – including collab- orations with Cradle Kalamazoo and the Regional Health Alliance – gave birth to a child of healthy weight. Nearly 600 moms received home visiting care for their new- borns. Some 834 pregnant women and new mothers were served. More than 55,000 diapers were collected and distributed to low-income families through 47 agency partners.Still, we have a long way to go. Our region’s infant mortality rate is 6.75, meaning more than six babies per 1,000 live births never see their first birthday. Thatrateisabove10forAfrican-American babies.We can do better. We must do better. I hope that you’ll consider giving of your re- sources, both time and treasure, so we can ensure that all families and young children in our community feel loved and cared for.Alyssa Stewart is Vice President for Strategy & Engagement at United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. To learn more about United Way, the “Our Impact” community report and how you can help, go to ALYSSA STEWART, VP Strategy & Engagement22SCENE 4309 I HEALTH ISSUE

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