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New March of Dimes report ranks West Virginia near bottom for maternal and infant health

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia again gets an F grade for its preterm birth rate in the 2020 Report Card now out from the March of Dimes focused on maternal and infant health in the United States.

West Virginia’s preterm birth rate was 12.6 percent with inadequate prenatal care and poverty for women between the ages of 15 and 44 identified as contributing factors.

The previous year’s rate was 11.8 percent.

Only Louisiana and Mississippi have worst rates, according to the March of Dimes.

Overall, the preterm birth rate among Black women in West Virginia was 15 percent higher than among all other women.

“It’s so critical at this time in our country to be addressing and working to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities that are driving the challenges, whether it’s COVID or whether it’s the maternal infant health crisis,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief medical and health officer for the March of Dimes.

The Mountain State’s infant mortality rate was also one of the highest in the U.S. at 7.0.

Leading causes of infant death include birth defects, prematurity, low birth weight, maternal complications and sudden infant death syndrome.

Dr. Rahul Gupta

Dr. Gupta, who served as West Virginia’s state health officer from 2015 to 2018 and health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department prior to that, talked with MetroNews on Monday, the day of the report card’s release.

It was designed to offer a comprehensive overview of the health of moms and babies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C.

Nationally, the U.S. received a C- for a preterm birth rate, defined as less than 37 weeks gestation, of 10.2 percent reflecting a decline for the fifth straight year. Last year’s national grade was a C.

No state received an A.

States that picked up B grades included Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.

No specific cities in West Virginia were include in the March of Dimes report “due to limited availability of data.” That was also the case for cities in Delaware, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming.

Overall, “The U.S. is among one of the worst developed nations to have a baby and it’s even more dire for women of color,” the March of Dimes report found.

“Rates of maternal death and morbidity continue to be unacceptably high in the U.S.”

The health of mothers, Dr. Gupta said, determines the health of babies.

“It’s very important to plan your pregnancy and make sure you’re healthy before that, whether it’s eating right, exercising, sleeping, taking your vitamins, not consuming alcohol — all these factors,” he said.

“Really the outcomes of the pregnancy begin before you even become pregnant.”

The Mountain State was recognized for the Medicaid expansion, allowing women greater access to preventative care during pregnancy, the Medicaid extension, providing coverage for 60 days postpartum, and for below average preterm birth costs.

West Virginia was also credited with having a Maternal Mortality Review Committee to review deaths in women within a year of baby delivery and the Prenatal Quality Collaborative, focused on improving the quality of care for moms and babies before, during and after pregnancy.

“There’s a lot of good work happening in West Virginia that should be commended,” Dr. Gupta said.

“We just need to continue that hard work that folks are doing at DHHR (the state Department of Health and Human Resources), the Bureau for Public Health as well as other agencies.”

Last week, Dr. Gupta was announced as team lead for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, part of agency reviews for the transition to President-Elect Joe Biden’s White House Administration.

He said he was “honored to be working on the team.”

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