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Health Link program promotes minority infant health

By Beverly A. House-Kerr

Rowan County Health Department

The Health Link program is an initiative at the Rowan County Health Department that is observing 16 years of uninterrupted services and support to hundreds of low-income women and children to improve health, self-sufficiency, and to reduce the infant death disparity between white non-hispanic and African-American babies.

Health disparities are defined as being a significant disparity in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality or survival rates in a certain population as compared to the health status of the general population (Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act United States Public Law 106-525 (2000), p. 2,498).

Many different populations are affected by disparities including racial and ethnic minorities, residents of rural areas, women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The purpose and the mission of the Health Link program is based on statistical data trends as far back as October 1998, when the Rowan County Health Department and a group of concerned citizens met to address the issue of minority infant health disparities. Poor maternal and infant health of the African- American non-hispanic women led to a death rate two times higher than white non-hispanic infants.

Rowan County’s infant deaths per 1,000 live births from 2009-2013 is 5.9, which is below the infant death rate of 7.0 for the state of North Carolina. The most recently reported data for 2009-2013 from the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics for Rowan County’s infant mortality disparity ratio, has dropped from a more than two-times disparity ratio to 1.77.

Recently, PBS aired a documentary called “African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates is a world renowned genealogist who is delving deep into the lives of many well-known celebrities of all races and ethnic groups using history and DNA. Through this documentary, one becomes aware of the importance of knowing who you are and how your ancestors were able to survive during their lifetime.

Gates looks at culture, types of food, living environment and one’s work to tell a story that ultimately makes up one’s family unit. The journey of many minority families started on a long arduous journey across the Atlantic, Pacific and the Mexican borders to the United States of America due to civil unrest, denial of religious freedom, war, and/or slavery. All of the social, economic, emotional and physical stressors that a person has to endure can produce a profound negative or positive affect on their mind, body and soul. Gates shows through his documentaries that a family’s lifestyle and health can be a determinate factor for success or failure in one’s future, including the environment that one is born into as well as the opportunities that one may have offered to him or her.

In 2009, North Carolina ranked 37th in the United States according to America’s Health Rankings. The health status ranking of North Carolina and in the nation is closely tied to the health status of minorities and other underserved population groups. Although data is presented by race and ethnicity to describe health status gaps, one’s race/ethnicity by itself is not a cause of health condition or health status.

The Rowan County Health Department, through the Health Link program, continues to work to improve risk factors that affect infants such as low birth weight, gestational age of less than 32 weeks, birth defects, lack of prenatal care, smoking amongst pregnant women and mothers with medical complications.

The Health Link program, with continued support from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Maternal and Child Health Division – Healthy Beginnings Grant, Rowan County Government, Smart Start Rowan, and the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation will continue to provide case management and home visiting services to families with children 0 to 5 years of age. Health Link also provides community-based health education workshops, promotes reproductive life planning, healthy weight, folic acid consumption, tobacco cessation, breastfeeding, safe sleep, including the Cribs for Kids pack and play crib distribution program, well child care visits, and fatherhood initiatives in Rowan County. All of this is offered to our families and the community to improve the lives of all women and children in hopes of a brighter future for Rowan County.

For more information contact: Beverly A. House-Kerr, 704-216-8830

House-Kerr works in the Health Link program at the Rowan County Health Department.

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