American Indian infants in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are roughly twice as likely to die as white infants, and health officials say the best defense is prevention and education, reported The Grand Forks Herald.
American Indian infants tend to face greater risks, including being born prematurely, having teenage mothers, growing up in poverty, or having a mother who smoked or used alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy.
The Herald stresses that one of the highest risk factors is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
A Minnesota infant mortality study revealed that nearly half of the babies who died from SIDS or other sleep-related causes during 2005-2007 were American Indians. The study included infants who were suffocated while sleeping in bed with a parent who accidentally rolled over the child during sleep.
One prevention and education method that's proven successful in Cass and Clay counties in North Dakota is the Nurse-Family Partnership for mothers who qualify according to income and other criteria. Nurses with the national program visit homes weekly and act as both a health professional and a life coach.
Currently, two tribes, the White Earth and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, are collaborating to offer a Nurse-Family Partnership visiting nurse program to their reservations.
The two tribes recently participated in a pilot study to adapt the national program, blending Western standards with a culturally sensitive approach that incorporates Ojibwe culture. Thus far, families have been very receptive. “Moms are engaging with that curriculum,” Pat Butler, a nurse who manages the White Earth Home Health Agency, told the Herald.
"If the Minnesota Ojibwe bands succeed in getting approval to modify the Nurse-Family Partnership program, they will become the first tribes to do so," the Herald reported.