Columbus: On homicides, infant mortality

Last Monday, Isaiah A. Hoskins became the city’s 112th homicide. He was just 18 and found fatally shot in a Franklinton alley. Tuesday, the city marked its 113th homicide, tying the highest number of killings in 25 years. And the tally of families left asking “Why Lord?” goes up.

Meanwhile, another pitiable death count is rattling our city neighborhoods: These victims are tiny. In Franklin County, three families lose a baby every week; 150 infants die a year. And African-American babies are dying at twice the rate of white babies.

One major cause of this is that babies are being born too soon. The problem was made clearer earlier this month when Columbus got a D on the March of Dimes’ Premature Birth Report Card. In 2015, the city had a preterm birth rate of 11.4 percent, as compared with the March of Dimes’ goal of 8.1 percent nationwide by 2020.

This is incredibly disheartening, given the hard work that has been going on in this community around the CelebrateOne effort to lower central Ohio’s Third World infant-death rates. The effort has mobilized support for new mothers and worked to prevent premature births and keep babies safe, for instance by promoting the ABCs of safe sleep for babies (alone, on their back, in a crib).

That program might be making inroads that these earlier statistics don’t reflect. But the city’s homicide rate makes us think otherwise. There is a link between violence in neighborhoods and maternal stress.

We can talk about getting women to stop smoking, treating infections and getting moms prenatal care, but if women are living in toxic environments, this threatens infant survival. CelebrateOne refers to this as the “ZIP code factor.”

From CelebrateOne’s website: “Researchers have found the conditions in which we live and work have a huge impact on our health.” It notes neighborhoods that have higher unemployment, lower graduation rates, homelessness, lack of access to nutritious food, higher incidents of crime, and lack of access to medical care contribute to babies being born too soon or not thriving during their first year.

In other words, sick communities make us sicker. The seeds of violence feeding the city’s homicide rate — drugs, poverty, lack of education, along with the stress of violence ripping apart communities and families — are the same factors that are killing our babies. Infant mortality isn’t the root of the problem. It’s a heartbreaking symptom.

—The Columbus Dispatch