| Thursday, November 5, 2015

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The District’s Racial Disparities and Gaps Among the Highest in the Nation

Arlington, VA, November 05, 2015 —

The District of Columbia earned a “C” on the 2015 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, which also revealed persistent disparities between communities and among racial and ethnic groups. The 2015 Premature Birth Report Card provides rates and grades for major cities or counties in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It also provides preterm birth rates by race and ethnicity for each area and applies a disparity index ranking.

Babies who survive an early birth face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy, and intellectual delays. The District’s preterm birth rate was 9.6 percent in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The rate was worse than the new March of Dimes 2020 goal of 8.1 percent. Prince George’s County’s premature birth rates are also trailing behind. Prematurity remains especially high among African Americans. 

“This detailed information will show us where we have the greatest need and allow us to meet the unique needs of each community,” said Mary Revenis, M.D., attending neonatologist at Children's National Health System. “The District is not doing as well as it should in preventing premature births and too many of our babies must fight to overcome the health challenges of an early birth. Premature birth is the number one killer of babies and many of our families still face that fear. There are large gaps in the preterm birth rate between communities surrounding D.C. And, racial and ethnic disparities persist.”

D.C. ranked 50th on the disparity index with a score of 45 to indicate the gaps between racial and ethnic groups in its preterm birth rate. African Americans in D.C. have a preterm birth rate of 12.6 percent. Followed by Hispanics with a rate of 9.4 percent. Caucasians had a rate of 7.5 percent. Asians ranked lowest of all with a rate of 6.8 percent. To put that into perspective, an African American baby born is 68 percent more likely than Caucasian baby to be born too soon in the District.

Maryland earned a “C” on the 2015 Report Card due to a preterm birth rate of 10.1 percent. Virginia’s rate is 9.2 percent. The commonwealth received a “B” grade. Because of its decrease of premature births, the March of Dimes will present its Apgar Award to Dr. Marissa Levine, interim Virginia State Health Commissioner at a press conference in Richmond on November 5, 2015. The Virginia Apgar Award recognizes states and territories that accepted and met the challenge from the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to lower their preterm birth rate by 8 percent between 2009 and 2014. The award is named in honor of Virginia Apgar, M.D., who developed the five-point APGAR score to evaluate an infant’s health at birth.

The U.S. earned a “C” on the 2015 Report Card. The national preterm birth rate was 9.6 percent in 2014, meeting the March of Dimes 2020 goal early, the organization’s leaders announced as they set a new and higher standard for the 2015 Premature Birth Report Card. Report Card information will be available at: marchofdimes.org/reportcard.

The March of Dimes says the years of improvement in the U.S. preterm birth rate came through bold leadership and the implementation of programs and policies by state and local health departments, hospitals, and health care providers. Also, a more accurate method of measuring pregnancy length recently was adopted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The new measurement already is used by most other high-resource countries.

The March of Dimes says it recognizes that continued research to identify new medical advances to prevent preterm birth is necessary in order to reach the new goal. The March of Dimes has invested in a nationwide network of five new prematurity research centers to find the unknown causes of this still too-common problem and potential solutions.

Locally, the March of Dimes is focusing its resources on fighting premature birth in the areas with the greatest need. In 2015, the Foundation has invested nearly $430,000 to support community programs in the Maryland-National Capital Area.

Local March of Dimes community programs:

  • Mama and Baby Bus, is a mobile medical unit that provides free prenatal care to women around the D.C. area who otherwise would not receive it.
  • Stork’s Nest®, an incentive-based, prenatal health promotion program for low-income, pregnant women. A partnership of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and the March of Dimes, the program encourages women to make and keep prenatal care appointments and participate in prenatal education classes. In return, the expectant mothers receive necessary items such as maternity clothes, layettes, and baby products at minimal or no cost.
  • CenteringPregnancy®, a model of group prenatal healthcare, provides healthcare assessment, education and support to women.

Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm, and nearly one million die due to an early birth or its complications. According to the March of Dimes, America’s preterm birth rate ranks among the worst of high-resource countries. On November 17, the March of Dimes and organizations from around the world will mark the 5th Annual World Prematurity Day. The World Prematurity Network (WPN), a global coalition of consumer and parent groups working together to raise awareness and prevent premature birth in their countries, is calling for action to prevent preterm birth and improve care for babies born too soon.

Local prematurity awareness activities include:

  • The March of Dimes Prematurity Prevention Conference will be held November 17 and 18, 2015, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Crystal City, Virginia. Attendees will include leading public health officials, doctors, nurses, and other stakeholders who will discuss the latest interventions and quality improvement programs. Former U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, M.D. will present the March of Dimes “Prematurity Campaign Roadmap,” which is an effort to lower the nation’s preterm birth rate. Visit www.marchofdimes.org/conference for more information about the conference. 
  • Throughout November, local March of Dimes staff and volunteers will visit nearly 30 hospitals for a “Day of Gratitude” to thank Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) doctors, nurses and other health care professionals for all that they do every day for fragile newborns.
  • On November 5, the March of Dimes will present its 2015 Virginia Apgar Award to the Virginia Department of Health at the State Capital in Richmond at 11:00 a.m. The award recognizes states that accepted and met a challenge to lower their preterm birth rates by at least 8 percent between 2009 and 2015.
  • On November 17, the Capital Wheel at National Harbor will again shine in purple to symbolize hope for a healthy start for more babies. 

To learn more about Prematurity Awareness Month and World Prematurity Day, please visit facebook.com/worldprematurityday. From there, share stories and videos about babies born too soon. The page features an interactive world map showing the home place for each story told.

About The March of Dimes

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Contact: Michele Murphy-Hedrick, (571) 257-2303, [email protected]

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

Visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org for more information. Visit shareyourstory.org for comfort and support. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.