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South Carolina sees drop in infant mortality numbers

Dirk Schumacher

South Carolina's infant mortality rate dropped between 2019 and 2020, but the rate of babies dying before their first birthday is likely still above the national average.

Of the 55,713 babies born in South Carolina in 2020, 364 died within their first year of life, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said in a news release Thursday.

That's almost 7% less than infant death rate in 2019, the agency said. The total 2020 infant mortality rate was 6.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Still, disparities exist between white babies and those born to women of color. White babies had the lowest mortality rate, at 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. By contrast, the death rate for babies of Black mothers was more than double that, at 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Infants born to Hispanic women died at a rate of 5.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, and babies born to non-Hispanic women of other races died at a rate of 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births.

"The decrease in the number of infant deaths for 2020 is encouraging, but the report also spotlights areas where significant more work needs to be done to improve birth outcomes for women of color," said DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler. "The disparity in infant deaths between white women and women of color is unfortunately widening and must be addressed."

The state's total death rate for infants is higher than the 2019 national average of 5.58 deaths per 1,000 live births. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have yet to release 2020 figures.

Public health officials said a barrier to infant health in the state is access to prenatal care, especially in rural areas. The state also needs better education among expecting parents about the importance of consistent prenatal care.