VOL. 125 | NO. 95 | Monday, May 17, 2010
Girls Inc. Receives Funds to Combat Infant Mortality
By Tom Wilemon
Dr. Ramasubbareddy Dhanireddy, right, talks with (from left) JayXavaire’ Jackson, Michael Chambers and Chasitea Chambers. The three work with other teenagers to warn them about behaviors that lead to infant mortality. Photo: Tom Wilemon
As a neonatologist, Dr. Ramasubbareddy Dhanireddy is fluent in the language of medicine, but he doesn’t know teen talk.
Teenage leaders have agreed to translate his concerns and advice to help prevent young mothers from having low birth weight babies. The teen-led Infant Mortality Public Awareness Campaign (IMPAC) supports this effort with funding from the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation.
The foundation stepped in to provide $165,000 for initiatives in Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis after state funding for the pilot program ran out.
The nonprofit Girls Inc. of Memphis will receive $50,000 of that money to administer the program here.
Dhanireddy, who heads the newborn center at The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, met with three of the teenagers before a ceremony last week to announce the city’s inclusion in the program.
In his speech, he shared the frustration of trying to get through to a girl who has given birth to a sick baby – a girl who is likely to have two or three babies before age 20.
“A lot of the time, I don’t feel like I speak their language when I’m at bedside talking to this mom, who may be as young as 12 or 13,” he said.
He implored the teenagers to also encourage their peers to embrace education, which he called a “foundation for a good life.”
The Memphis IMPACT team consists of 10 teenagers who will be educating their peers about infant mortality and related risk factors.
Calvin Anderson, vice president of community relations for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, noted that the infant mortality rate in some Memphis ZIP codes is as high as 30 per 1,000 births, compared to a national average of 6.8 per 1,000 births.
“That is one of the reasons we saw an urgent need to be involved,” Anderson said.
He called the problem an ongoing crisis.
“The saddest thing about it to me is that many of these deaths are preventable if we were only educated in the risk factors that cause these deaths,” said Deborah Hester-Harrison, president of Girls Inc. “That’s why we’re here and that’s why Girls Inc. is so excited to be a new site this year to help with this initiative.”
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. thanked the foundation for its financial support. Children are more prone to talk to their peers than adults about their problems, he said. Loretta McNary, IMPACT program director, agreed. She said many parents don’t even realize their daughters are pregnant until they end up in the hospital.
“It’s a lonely world out there, particularly when a child is in trouble,” said Wharton.