Tuesday, September 30, 2014 · 3:53 p.m.

BCBST works to combat infant mortality

Education is key to prevention, leaders say

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Premature births contribute greatly to the infant mortality rate, leaders said. (Photo: MGNOnline)

Dr. Linda Moses knows what a difference an education can make, and now, she is leading a program that helps women learn how to avoid becoming a statistic. 

She grew up in a poor family. Her parents couldn't help her with her homework. She had six sisters. Her three older sisters didn't go to college. But Moses did, and her three younger sisters followed her example and did seek higher education. 

"It you help one person in the family gain higher education and more knowledge, that spreads out," she said. "It's something that snowballs." 

Now Moses, who works at the UT Health Science Center, is the director of the Blues Project, which is a community outreach and research program that provides education, counseling and other support to pregnant women.

The services continue through the child's second birthday. 

The program aims to cut down infant mortality and premature births, as well as provides prenatal and postpartum education.

The infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of infants under 1 year of age per 1,000 live births in a given population, according to the Blues Project website

The program is funded by the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation. 

The foundation recently announced the renewal of a $2,784,522 grant to support the Blues Babies and Beyond Program, which provides outreach services to more than 200 women and children in Memphis and Chattanooga. The funding continues through June 2014, according to a news release. 

The project has two offices, one in Chattanooga and one in Memphis. Those cities are located within the two counties with the highest infant mortality rates in the state. 

In 2010, the infant mortality rate for Hamilton County was 9.7 percent. In Shelby County, where Memphis is located, it was 10.3 percent.

Tennessee's rate was 7.9 percent in 2010, compared to the national average of 6.2 percent, Moses said. 

In 2008, the CDC said that the infant mortality rate in the United States should be 4.5 infant deaths per 1,000 births, according to the Blues Project website. 

Premature births are a large contributor to infant mortality. And high poverty and crime rates, as well as a lack of education, are also part of the problem, Moses said. 

"If we had to do one thing to help fix infant mortality, it would be fix our education system," she said. 

Infant mortality costs the state $610 million annually, according to the Blues Project website. 

Leaders with the project teach mothers about infant mortality and how to prevent it. They provide lessons and lectures and challenge mothers to help make a difference. Leaders provide mothers with information about risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, that could harm their child. 

"In Chattanooga, a great majority of premature babies are born to people who have not graduated from high school," Moses said. 

Leaders also help the program participants set financial and educational goals. They educate women on the importance of getting shots for their newborns and help them learn how to be good parents. 

Moses said that some of the women don't know what they are capable of because no one has ever asked them about their goals.

And they may not know what resources that have access to, she said. 

Kathy Bingham, manager of BlueCross’ Tennessee Health Foundation and community relations, said that BCBST has supported the program since 2003, when it was only a concept.

"This concept has blossomed," she said. "It is working."

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