RALEIGH, N.C. -- State health officials on Monday said they expect to have an update by April on efforts to reduce the gap between black and white infant deaths.

  • Black infants in North Carolina continue to die at more than twice the rate of white infants
  • The state infant mortality rate fell to a record low last year
  • State officials are nearing completion of a program to identify ways to narrow the mortality gap

Although the state's child death rate fell to a record low in 2018, the infant mortality rate for black infants is more than double that of their white counterparts: 12.2 for 1,000 births versus five. State data show perinatal death is by far the leading cause of death for everyone under age 18 in North Carolina.

Belinda Pettiford, the head of the Division of Public Health's Women's Health Branch, said the Perinatal Health Strategic Plan has focused on ways to reduce the black-white infant mortality gap. Focus areas have ranged from expanding breastfeeding support and supporting evidence-based perinatal care to addressing structural disparities stemming from decades of Jim Crow laws. She said early implementation of some provisions, such as training health professionals to identify and address such issues, probably contributed to the state's record-low infant mortality rate.

Pettiford said the infant mortality issue is not something that can be fixed overnight. She said once any policies are changed, it will take some time for the changes to impact healthcare outcomes.​