Another impressive health news project by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Confronting Infant Mortality

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I have gushed praise for this newspaper for a long time. (Disclosure: I cut my teeth in journalism as a Journal Company employee way back in 1973. No ties since 1976.) As a mid-market newspaper facing all of the same hurdles as other newspapers, it consistently demonstrates tenacity and creativity in tackling vital health care issues in this country.

empty_cradles_logo.jpgThe latest: a project called “Empty Cradles: Confronting Our Infant Mortality Crisis.”

While there is a great health/medicine/science team in place at the paper, I believe that much of the credit goes to the top – to editor Marty Kaiser, who clearly understands that health care issues are among the most important his paper can report on in serving public needs.

Kaiser writes:

“The Journal Sentinel today takes on an issue we have too long ignored – the death of children before their first birthday. Infant mortality is a crisis not just of public health, but of ethics and morality. The rate at which infants die in our city is unacceptable. In 2011 we will examine the problem and point to solutions.”

The project is off to a great start, taking a global picture and focusing it locally. Excerpt:

“Compare the U.S. infant mortality rate with the rest of the world.

With the caveat that some countries count and report infant deaths in different ways, the U.S., for all its wealth and medical sophistication, does poorly.

In recent years, the U.S. infant mortality rate has been twice that of nations as diverse as Japan, Sweden, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

One federal ranking, based on 2010 estimates, puts the U.S. rank at 46th among 222 nations. That puts it behind Cuba, Hungary and South Korea.

Wisconsin’s 2008 rate – 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births – falls in the middle of the other states.

Still, the number of infant deaths was staggering: 501 babies died in Wisconsin in 2008 – more than three times the number of homicides, more than twice the number of drunken-driving deaths.

The story of infant mortality in Wisconsin is the tale of two worlds divided, at least on the surface, by race.

In 2008, the infant mortality rate for whites was 5.9 per 1,000 births.

It was 13.8 for blacks.

That means that in Wisconsin, black infants die during their first year of life at more than twice the rate of white infants. It is worse than Romania.

It is among the worst in the nation.”

Folded in are strong personal stories and well-executed information graphics.

We need many more efforts like this one, and more editors like Kaiser. Follow this project as it unfolds.

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