The Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey and the SIDS Center of New Jersey will hold a conference next month on Black Infant Mortality (focused specifically on New Jersey). The conference is set for June 2nd at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark.
It’s been more than 20 years since a Blue Ribbon Panel was created under the former Governor of New Jersey Christie Whitman to address the issue. The Partnership was a part of the panel then and is now leading efforts to resurface this important public health issue.
Ilise Zimmerman, executive director of the Partnership, sat down recently with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about the conference.
“One concern during pregnancy is the effects of stress and racism. This is no small matter because when a woman’s body is under pressure she produces increased levels of cortisol which brings the baby out of the uterus early and the earlier a baby is born.”
Although interventions were made statewide to assist moms and their children, Black infants today in NJ and around the country are twice as likely to die during the first year of life compared to white infants and in major cities like Newark, disparity in infant mortality is higher.
“What’s amazing to me is socioeconomics does not account for the difference and the disparity. So if you have a well-to do black woman who becomes pregnant, she is married, she has huge income, and Ivy League educated she too is at risk of losing her infant because stress know no boundaries.”
Zimmerman has been recognized for her outstanding career by many leading organizations. She is the recipient of the American Conference on Diversity’s 2011 Humanitarian Award, NJBIZ’s 2011 Healthcare Hero Award, and the FDR Award from the March of Dimes. She also has been honored by the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network and was a Fellow with Leadership New Jersey’s class of 2004.
Why has this issue of black infant mortality become so important to her?
“To me part of life is preparing for death, but when you have preventable death that’s where the optimism comes in the fact that there’s something that I could do in my lifetime to prevent a family from suffering that’s very motivating to me.”
Ilise Zimmerman says even though the conference next month will focus on New Jersey, it certainly doesn't stop there.
“The disparity is not only New Jersey wide, its Nationwide and there are many different states that are taking aggressive look at this. The trouble for me as a New Jersey citizen, we either have the worst disparity or second to worst disparity and it’s embarrassing to go to a public health conference and been working on this issue for such a long time and still the disparity remains.”
Click above to hear the entire interview.