by Melissa Brunner
Tonya Lewis Lee says she never knew of a crisis right here on our country - the number of babies who weren't surviving past their first birthday. It's what health officials will track as the "infant mortality" rate.
You'd think that babies born in a country like the United States would have access to the best medical care and the best conditions possible. You'd think they'd be in environments where they not only survive but thrive. Sadly, the numbers don't bear that out. The United Nations Population figures from 2006 rank the U.S. 33rd in infant mortality, while the CIA Factbook update from 2009 puts the U.S. all the way down to 46th. The rate is worst among African Americans.
Lewis Lee, the wife of filmmaker Spike Lee and an accomplished producer herself, latched on to the cause when asked to get involved by the U.S. Office of Minority Affairs. One result of the effort is the documentary "Crisis in the Crib." She also travels the country drawing attention to the issue, which is what brought her to Topeka Thursday. We need to pay attention, she says, and do all we can to support women, ensuring they have access to medical care before they ever become pregnant, regular care while they are pregnant and care for their babies after birth. There's another factor being explored as well - the unique stresses African American women may face, including racism. If it's because they are living in poverty, the stress may simply come from that situation. If they're working in the professional world, they may feel that they need to work better and harder than everyone else to prove themselves, consequently letting their health suffer. It's an interesting area still under study.
No matter the reasons, Lewis Lee says, we, as a nation should feel it's unacceptable. We should work to give all babies the best chances possible. After all, she says, you never know what those young people might become.
You can help by joining the March of Dimes' March for Babies on April 29 at the Topeka Zoo. You can find details at www.marchforbabies.org.