March of Dimes report gives Georgia, South Carolina failing grades for high premature birth rates


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Georgia, South Carolina and several states across the South received prematurity grades of F on the 2020 March of Dimes Report Card.

The report, which was released during Prematurity Awareness Month, offers a comprehensive look at the maternal health of mothers and babies in the United States and Puerto Rico. 

The annual March of Dimes report grades U.S. states, counties and cities on preterm birth rates and includes other information on infant deaths, health insurance status and inadequate prenatal care.

It gives failing grades for having a preterm birth rate either equal to or above 11.5%. This year, Georgia’s rate is at 11.7%, while South Carolina’s is at 11.5%.

Chatham County appears to have the worst preterm rate in Georgia, based on data from the March of Dimes. The county received an F grade for its preterm birth rate of 12.6%, a number that has increased since last year’s report.

Overall, the U.S. received a grade of C minus this year.

“It’s so unfortunate that we are witnessing so many babies being born unhealthy and women dying from the complications of childbirth,” said Vikki Millender-Morrow, senior executive director of market impact for Georgia March of Dimes.

Premature birth is the number-one killer of infants in the U.S., with one in 10 being born too early, according to the March of Dimes. The babies who do survive often face serious health issues.

“You wouldn’t really feel like we live in one of the most advanced and developed countries in the world; out of all the developed countries, we’re the worst,” Millender-Morrow told WSAV NOW. “Our comparisons are like with third-world countries.”

The organization’s 2020 report showed that the preterm birth rate among Black women in Georgia is 45% higher than the rate among women of all other ethnic backgrounds. 

The preterm birth rate is also high in South Carolina, the report finds, with 55% of Black women in the state more likely to give birth prematurely.

“Black babies are twice as likely than white babies to be born prematurely,” Millender-Morrow said, adding, “Black women are almost four times more likely than white women to die as a result of complications of childbirth, and this really has to do with racial disparities that we just see everywhere.”

Millender-Morrow says overall contributing factors to high preterm birth rates include poverty, lack of health insurance and little to no access to adequate maternal health care for many mothers.

“We have many maternal health deserts, which means that out of the 159 counties in Georgia, approximately half of them have no maternal or obstetric care in those counties,” she said.

Dr. Brad Buckler, physician-in-chief and a neonatologist at Memorial Health, also acknowledges that Georgia has long struggled with prematurity and women’s health.

The expert says while it’s not exactly known what causes prematurity, there are a number of health factors that can contribute to a child being born too soon.

“High blood pressure, preeclampsia, poor nutrition, lots of different things,” Buckler told WSAV NOW. “Some moms do everything exactly right and still deliver early on.”

Buckler says Memorial Health’s level-three neonative care facility and high-risk obstetricians do “a fantastic job” of helping expectant mothers get as far along in their pregnancies as possible.

“I’d much rather take care of a baby who’s born at 30 weeks as opposed to a baby who was born at 25 weeks, and I’d like to take care of a baby who was born at 34 weeks compared to 30 weeks,” Buckler said. 

“In the NICU, we say, ‘every week is a better week, and every day is a better day,’” he added.

Millender-Morrow says despite Georgia’s failing grade, she believes there are solutions to help solve the issue of premature births and related deaths.

“If we could just continue to [offer] additional resources, provide additional health care and additional education, reduce implicit bias and provide other means of access to care, whether it’s doulas, telemedicine or alternative providers, these are all the things that can get moms and babies the health care that they need,” she said. 

View the full 2020 March of Dimes Report Card by visiting this link.

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