According to a report from the North Carolina Division of Public Health, the overall child mortality rate from 2014 to 2015 moved from 57.9 to 58.3 deaths per 100,000 North Carolina residents aged zero to 17.
Kella Hatcher, executive director of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, said since the task force was established in 1991, it has worked with experts and stakeholders to decrease the mortality rates of both children and infants.
The child death rate in the state since 1991 has decreased by 46 percent, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health.
Sarah Verbiest, a clinical associate professor at the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health, said over the past couple of years, however, the state child mortality rate has stubbornly resisted improvement.
“We’ve not seen any significant gains or any significant worsening,” she said. “We’re very stagnant in North Carolina.”
Hatcher said state infant mortality rates making up a large portion of overall figures contribute to the stagnation of child mortality rates.
The infant mortality rate made up 66 percent of the overall child death rate in 2015, according to a N.C. Division of Public Health report.
The infant morality rate for 2015 in the state was 7.3 deaths per 1,000 infants under the age of one — up from 7.1 in 2014.
“You really have the overall child death rates being driven by infant deaths,” Hatcher said.
The North Carolina infant mortality rate was ranked in 2014 as a tie for eighth highest in the nation, a N.C. Division of Public Health report said.
Janice Freedman, executive director of the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation, said the major factors affecting infant mortality rates are premature births, low-weight births, birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities.
Verbiest said there has been a slight increase in birth defects, which are difficult to address and improve. She said UNC Hospitals, for example, has done a good job at increasing the lifespan of infants with birth defects, but sometimes it’s only a delay.
“In some cases we’re only putting off their passing into their second or third year,” she said. “It’s really quite a stubborn problem that is very frustrating.”
Hatcher said in order to reduce child and infant mortality rates, social determinants of health such as access to health care, education level, economic security and racism must be addressed.
“Those are issues that are simply about quality of life,” she said.
Freedman said many women are affected by poor access to health care, particularly African-American and low-income women.
The African-American, non-Hispanic infant mortality rate is the highest of the groups the report covered, at 12.5 deaths per 1,000 births. American Indians have the lowest rate at 4.9 deaths per 1,000 births.
“There has to be political will and, of course, there has to be some money,” she said. “But our state has not invested heavily in having women, especially low income women, have access to regular medical care.”