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South Carolina’s Infant Mortality Rate Decreases but Remains Above the National Average

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With infant mortality rates double for women of color, DHEC seeks cross-sector support for improving healthy births among minorities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 6, 2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. – An annual report released today by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) shows the state’s 2020 infant mortality rate has decreased by seven percent compared to the previous year but likely remains above the national average. DHEC continues to be committed to collaborative, cross-sector efforts that improve healthy births for moms and babies in South Carolina. 

The Infant Mortality Report is produced annually by DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. The 2020 report and previous reports are available at scdhec.gov/health.

“Ideally, we want to see a decline in South Carolina’s infant mortality rate each year until that number is as small as possible – close to zero,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “The decrease in the number of infant deaths for 2020 is encouraging, but the report also spotlights areas where significant more work needs to be done to improve birth outcomes for women of color. The disparity in infant deaths between white women and women of color is unfortunately widening and must be addressed.”

South Carolina’s 2020 infant mortality rate was 6.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which is seven percent lower than 2019’s rate of 6.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national average for 2019 was 5.58 deaths per 1,000 live births. The CDC has not released 2020 figures, to date.

Notable changes in this year’s South Carolina report include:

  • 55,713 babies born in 2020, which is 2.3% fewer babies than in 2019
  • 364 infants died within their first year of life, nearly 7% fewer infant deaths than in 2019
  • The infant mortality rate (IMR) was lowest among births to non-Hispanic White women (4.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births)
  • The IMR was more than twice as high among live births to non-Hispanic Black women (2.4 disparity ratio; 10.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births), 20% higher among births to Hispanic women (1.2 disparity ratio; 5.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births), and 40% higher among births to non-Hispanic women of other races (1.4 disparity ratio; 6.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births). 
  • Between 2016 and 2020, the disparity in infant mortality has widened between births to non-Hispanic White women compared to births to non-Hispanic Black women and non-Hispanic women of other races but has remained relatively stable when compared to births to Hispanic women.  

“This year’s report shows some improvements, such as a decrease in overall IMR and reductions in postneonatal mortality, however, it’s clear to see that minority groups are continuing to experience the majority of these heartbreaking losses,” said Kimberly Seals, DHEC’s Director of the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. “We need better education among all expecting parents about how critical it is for pregnant women to receive consistent prenatal care by attending all of their checkups and following their doctor’s recommendations. Making sure parents understand safe sleep practices for infants is also key for reducing accidental infant deaths.”

“One of the major barriers to infant health in South Carolina is access to high quality prenatal and maternity care. This is especially an issue in the rural areas of our state. We need to improve access to care across the state and are committed to working with our partners to achieve this goal”, said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC Director.

DHEC works with key partners like the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA), S.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the March of Dimes South Carolina Chapter, faith and other community groups, and local organizations around the state to expand education and outreach and implement effective strategies for giving every baby the best chance for a healthy life. 

For information and resources about improving maternal and infant health, visit:

For more information, visit scdhec.gov/health.

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