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Sullivan Vows To Cut 'Unconscionable' Infant-Death Rate

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By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

WASHINGTON--Criticizing the nation's "unconscionable" infant-mortality rate, the Bush Administration has announced plans to launch a$171-million campaign to improve prenatal and childhood health-care services.

But the Children's Defense Fund--which released a new report last week revealing that, of 112 large cities with measurable data, 85 had infant-mortality rates exceeding the U.S. average of 10 deaths per 1,000 births--labeled the White House effort "inadequate."

In a speech before the March of Dimes organization Feb. 14, Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, pledged that he and President Bush will make infant health care a top national priority.

"It is unconscionable that currently 40,000 American babies die before their first birthday," Dr. Sullivan said.

The United States ranks 24th among nations in infant survival, he said, adding that the current mortality rate "is an improvement but... still too high."

He announced that the Administration will launch a pilot health-care campaign in "at least 10 troubled communities" in the 1992 fiscal year. Dubbed "Healthy Start," the effort will focus on four goals, he
said:

  • Increasing pregnant women's access to prenatal care.
  • Addressing values leading to "negative" conduct and "irresponsible actions," especially in teenage pregnancy.
  • Treating alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, poor nutrition, and high-risk sexual behaviors.
  • Targeting areas with particularly high infant-death rates.

The program seeks to reduce infant mortality by at least 50 percent in five years, Dr. Sullivan said.

C.D.F. Proposals

Of the $171 million proposed in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, $66 million will come from existing programs, Dr. Sullivan said; the rest will be "new money."

The government is already spending $7 billion on programs related to infant health, he said.

But Sara Rosenbaum, the C.D.F.s health director, said, "The President's budget proposes to reduce funds for basic programs in order to fight infant mortality in 10 major cities to be determined later."

Among other actions, the C.D.F. recommended in its report that the government expand the Medicaid program to cover more pregnant women and babies; expand the maternal- and child-health block-grant program; and maintain a national health-service corps of at least 2,000 doctors, nurses, and other staff members.

"Reallocating federal resources to target the largest cities .... is an inadequate substitute for a nationwide strategy," the C.D.F. said.

According to the report, the 10 cities with the highest infant-mortality rates, listed with rates per 1000 births, were: New Haven, Conn., 20; Detroit, Washington, Baltimore, and Savannah, Ga., all at 9; and Richmond and Portsmouth, Va., Syracuse, N.Y., Memphis, and Flint, Mich., all at 17.

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