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Michigan infant mortality rate drops to record low

Keira Burton

Michigan’s infant mortality rate has fallen to its lowest rate since at least the 1970s, when the current method of record-keeping began, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.

The rate, which measures the number of babies who die before their first birthday per thousand live births, fell to 6.4 in 2019, the most recent year for which the state has finalized its data.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said that number is “impressive,” but it also masks inequalities within the data.

“It’s such a tragedy that depending on where you live – depending on your race, quite frankly – you have a different rate of living beyond your first birthday,” she said.

Black children were more than twice as likely as white children to die in infancy, said Khaldun.

Detroit, in particular, saw “a dramatic decrease” in infant mortality, she said, ascribing the decline to increased funding for maternal health care and efforts to expand access to transportation and housing.

Mortality rates can be changed by public policy, she said -- they’re not rooted in people’s DNA.

“These things have nothing to do with the actual genetic makeup of people. It has everything to do with racism and structures and resources,” said Khaldun.

Brett has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before Michigan Radio, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times and worked at WXXI and WCMU. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.