County’s infant mortality low for Black Belt

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2003

There is some good news in the recently released infant mortality statistics for Alabama.

The Dallas County rate decreased from 8.1 to 2.8 per thousand between 2001 and 2002. In 2000 the rate was 2.5. The combined rate for the three years was 4.4, below the national average of 6-7, according to Alston Fitts, director of Edmundite Missions.

The infant mortality rate is calculated by dividing the number of children who die before age 1 by 1,000.

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The Edmundites and the nuns who work with them have provided ministry directed primarily toward the poorest of the poor in portions of the Black Belt for more than 65 years.

Fitts said that Dallas is among the 10 Alabama counties with the lowest infant mortality rate.

The bad news is that the number of Black Belt counties among the 12 counties annually with the highest infant mortality rate &045; what Fitts calls the &uot;Dirty Dozen&uot; &045; increased from three to five between 2001 and 2002.

The Black Belt had seven counties in the Dirty Dozen for the three-year period 2000-03. Sumter County was No. 1 with 19.2 percent; Wilcox

No. 3 with 16.2 percent; Marengo No. 5 with 15.5 percent; Choctaw No. 6 with 14.9 percent; Hale tied with Tuscaloosa

at No. 7 with 14.5 percent; Greene No. 9 with 13.6 percent; and Bullock No. 10 with 12.7 percent.

Fitts follows these statistics carefully &045; and others relating to the Black Belt &045; as a part of his work with the Edmundites.

Fitts said that historically the African-American infant mortality rate has exceeded that of whites by two or three times but that ratio has decreased steadily in recent years.

The Edmundites, together with nearly two dozen orders of nuns, have provided direct services in areas such as health care, nutrition and education in Selma and Dallas County and several surrounding Black Belt counties.

Fitts points out that the numbers of deaths by county are small and that a slight shift in the absolute number in any given county can cause a major change in the rate.

However, Black Belt statistics of all kinds that measure the health and welfare of communities continue to be among the worst in the state and Alabama has some of the worst statistics in the nation.

The statistics cited by Fitts were compiled by the Alabama Department of Public Health.