COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — New data released Wednesday by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) show an increase in both the state’s infant and maternal mortality rates.
“Most of these children and most of these moms, if not all of them should be alive today,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC director.
The agency’s 2023 Infant Mortality Report, released every year by DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, shows the state’s infant mortality rate rose by 12% from 2020 to 2021 (the most recent data available).
Officials reported 416 infant deaths, the highest in nearly a decade. According to the report, the number of children who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) more than doubled the total from the previous year.
“If we’re losing over 400 children a year in South Carolina, that’s a tragedy. We have to stop that. Those children will never be part of a healthy community and never be part of a family and that’s huge,” said Dr. Simmer.
State health officials say black infants continued to suffer disproportionately, dying at a rate nearly 2.5 times that of White infants. They also say since 2017 the mortality rate for infants born to non-Hispanic Black mothers has grown by almost 40%.
The three leading causes of infant death in South Carolina in 2021 were:
1) congenital malformations or birth defects,
2) disorders related to short gestation and low birthweight, and
3) causes related to maternal complications of pregnancy.
DHEC said deaths due to SIDS ranked fourth, while accidents were the fifth-leading cause of infant deaths in 2021, with 25 of the 26 accidental deaths due to suffocation or strangulation in bed.
The agency also released the latest report by the South Carolina Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Review Committee (SCMMMRC), which investigated 66 pregnancy-associated deaths from 2019 (the most recent data available) and determined 22 deaths to be directly related to the pregnancy itself, an increase of 9.3% from the year before.
Similarly to the infant mortality report, the SCMMMRC found that Black mothers experienced a 67% higher pregnancy-related mortality ratio than White mothers in both 2018 and 2019.
The report says the top three underlying causes of maternal deaths were:
2) mental health conditions, and
The SCMMMRC defines mental health conditions as psychiatric disorders such as depression, suicide and substance use disorder. The fourth- and fifth-leading causes were cardiovascular conditions and infections, respectively.
Dr. Simmer said access to care and education are issues they are working to address along with their partners.
“Speaking over the data as a whole, I do think improving access to care and getting these medical issues identified and addressed earlier in the pregnancy will be helpful and children getting the follow up care after their born,” he said.
Currently, there are 14 counties in South Carolina without an OB-GYN. Some woman in rural counties live more than 30 minutes away from prenatal care options.
According to a release, DHEC and South Carolina’s Title V program continue to partner with organizations such as the S.C. Hospital Association, S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and the S.C. Chapter of the March of Dimes. DEHC remains an active participant of the S.C. Birth Outcomes Initiative to address access to quality maternal, infant and child health services, including preventive and primary care, access to prenatal, delivery and postnatal care to women and regular screenings and follow-up.
For information and resources about improving maternal and infant health, visit:
• the ABCs of Safe Sleep
• newborn screening
• early childhood health
• infant head trauma
• CDC’s Hear Her Campaign
• “Count the Kicks” for improving birth outcomes
• healthy pregnancies
For more information, visit scdhec.gov/health.