BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – November is Prematurity Awareness Month and a new report highlights the problem in Ohio.
After a decade of decline, the premature birth rate in America has gone up for the second year in a row, and Northeast Ohio, primarily Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, are now ranked the worst in the nation.
The March of Dimes issues an annual report card, giving grades from A to F. Cleveland received an F and is now ranked the highest in premature births in the nation.
More than 380,000 babies are born preterm in the U.S. each year, facing a greater likelihood of death before their first birthday, lifelong disabilities or chronic health conditions.
Among the 100 cities in the U.S. with the greatest number of births (latest data is for 2015), Irvine, California had the lowest rate of preterm birth (5.8 percent) and Cleveland, Ohio had the highest preterm birth rate (14.9 percent).
“Cleveland got an F and really Mahoning County would probably get an F as well because our infant mortality rate is high and our prematurity rate is high as well,” said Elena Rossi with Akron Children’s Hospital.
Overall, the numbers show a disparity based on race. Rossi said black infants are dying at a rate of three to four times that of white infants in Cleveland and Mahoning County. She said while the numbers are discouraging, change is happening as awareness grows.
“As a state, we are really engaged and we know where we are and we know where we want to head. We’ll get there,” Rossi said. “As a family, we need to help all of our pregnant women to have a better outcome. It is not just about pregnant women, really all of us play a role and we can help make that different.”
Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. In addition to the human toll, preterm birth accounts for more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine.