Infant mortality a major problem

Babies in Ohio achieved something of a milestone last year: For the first time since the state began keeping records in 1939, fewer than 1,000 babies died before their first birthdays.

Ohio has one of the worst infant-mortality rates in the nation, so there was plenty of room for improvement during 2014. There still is.

In a report issued just before Christmas, the state Department of Health noted that the 955 infant deaths last year dropped the state’s rate to 6.8 per 1,000 births. That is better than the 7.4 rate in 2013 – but still short of the national goal of 6.0.

Even as overall progress was being reported, there was disturbing news in the report: After declining for two years, the infant-mortality rate for black babies increased in 2014 to 14.3, more than twice the rate for white children.

State officials say data indicate many of the deaths of black infants were because they were born prematurely – a tragedy that often is linked to mothers’ health.

Incumbent Gov. John Kasich and his predecessor, Ted Strickland, made reducing the infant-mortality rate a top priority for state government.

All babies matter, of course. But the new report makes it clear that infant mortality is far more prevalent among black babies – and thus should be viewed as a specific priority for action.

What form might that take? That is for health officials with far more information on the problem to decide.

But decide they should – and state and local officials from the governor and legislators on down should get behind finding and implementing a solution to a shameful situation in the Buckeye State.