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Detroit's Infant Mortality Rate Is Double The National Average, But Here's What They're Doing To Help Mothers

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Detroit's infant mortality rate is twice the national average and the highest among large American cities, but a new initiative in the city is trying to stop one of the primary causes.

Mayor Mike Duggan announced the "Make Your Date" campaign Thursday in collaboration with local hospitals to help pregnant women in Detroit receive support and medical care, even if they aren't insured. The campaign takes aim at reducing preterm births, as 18 percent of babies in the city are born prematurely (before 37 weeks), compared to 12 percent in the United States overall.

A Detroit News study earlier this year found that of U.S. cities its size and larger, Detroit had the highest rate of infant mortality, with 13.5 in 1,000 children dying in their first 12 months in 2010. Premature births was identified as the number one cause of mortality.

“Carrying her baby to full term is the most important thing a mother can do for the development of her child,” Duggan said in a statement Thursday.

The Make Your Date initiative, which corrals together different providers and resources through a website and phone number, aims to get every pregnant woman in Detroit to see a doctor, in part by making sure women receive services regardless of health insurance coverage or means. Women who sign up will be connected to prenatal care providers and offered classes on preterm birth prevention.

It also allows ensures women receive regular ultrasounds, a procedure that can help women who have a higher risk of preterm birth and trigger any necessary preventative care. Ultrasounds can identify short cervixes, a condition that's more common among Detroit women than in other areas of the world and also increases women's risk of preterm birth. However, a hormone treatment can reduce the risk of preterm birth by nearly half. A 2011 study conducted by investigators with the National Institutes of Health's Perinatology Research Branch, located in Detroit at Wayne State University's School of Medicine and the Detroit Medical Center, found that when administered a vaginal progesterone gel treatment daily, preterm birth among women with short cervixes was reduced by 45 percent.

Dr. Sonia Hassan, an author on that study and associate dean for maternal, perinatal and child health care at Wayne's med school, will be leading the Make Your Date initiative with several others.

She's made it her mission to combat the high rates of preterm birth and the drastic effects it can have on children's health, she told Crain's Detroit Business earlier this year.

"It hits you most when you see the effects when they get a little older -- cerebral palsy or other effects that are more evident," she said. "You see it, and it really makes a difference."

According to the March of Dimes, preterm birth can have long-term effects on health, including leading to intellectual and developmental disabilities, asthma and other lung problems, as well as intestinal, dental, vision and hearing issues.

"Being born full term is critical to long-term health," Hassan said in a statement Thursday. "The goal of this campaign is to reduce the rate of preterm birth by helping all expectant moms in Detroit receive the best care possible.”

The Make Your Date program is funded through its partners including three health systems in the city, Meridian Health Plan and foundations like March of Dimes. The city of Detroit, which filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection last year, is not contributing funding.

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