March of Dimes receives federal grant to help meet needs of pregnant women and infants in Louisiana


March of Dimes obtains half million dollars from HHS for program

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. OCT. 11, 2005 - More help is on the way from the March of Dimes to pregnant women and babies in Louisiana to deal with premature births in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

The March of Dimes and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health have partnered to provide services for high-risk pregnant women and families of infants now living in the Baton Rouge area. HHS has awarded the March of Dimes a $500,000 grant to meet these needs.

March of Dimes president Dr. Jennifer L. Howse will take part in a teleconference scheduled for Tuesday, October 11, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern time to discuss the grant and the organization's work to help women and babies in the Baton Rouge area. Reporters interested in participating should call toll free: 1-800-230-1093.

More information about the March of Dimes efforts in the hurricane-ravaged region can be found in its online press kit which contains audio, video and written news releases, as well as color photos with captions. The kit can be accessed by visiting:

Under the new $500,000 HHS grant the March of Dimes will reach out to thousands of families with high-risk mothers and babies.

Even before Hurricane Katrina, preterm birth rates in Louisiana were about 25 percent above the national average. The hurricane has exacerbated the risks, and the number of babies born too soon is expected to increase substantially over the next six months.

"Many of these displaced women were already at risk to have their babies born too soon. It is essential that these women be helped now to prevent a catastrophic rise in premature babies," said Dr. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "If we don't help them, babies will die, and many who survive will be left with devastating consequences - such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems, chronic lung disease and blindness."

"Our hearts go out to the families displaced by the storm. We believe that prompt action to help pregnant women and vulnerable children is one of the important steps we can take to help rebuild communities torn apart by Katrina," said Dr. Garth Graham, HHS deputy assistant secretary for Minority Health. "We can preserve many lives through timely intervention, care, and support of pregnant women and families whose risks of infant deaths and poor health outcomes have grown even higher because of the stresses and strains being placed on front-line health care systems and service agencies in Louisiana."

The new partnership between HHS's Office of Minority Health and the March of Dimes will offer education and clinical support to pregnant evacuees and infants.

  • The program will hire health educators, who are expected to identify at least 1,000 high-risk pregnant women and provide them with supplies and referrals.

  • A prenatal care and education program will be established at shelters or other convenient sites to provide care for about 360 pregnant women. Support groups of 10 to 15 women at the same stage of pregnancy will be created to help them through their potentially stressful pregnancies.

  • The program also will provide education and support for an estimated 2,500 families with infants in NICUs at three Baton Rouge hospitals.

Prematurity is the leading killer of America's newborns, and those who survive often have lifelong health problems. As much as half of all neurodevelopmental problems in children can be ascribed to premature birth.

Nationwide, 12.3 percent of all babies were born too soon in 2003, an increase of more than 30 percent since 1981, when the government began tracking prematurity.

In Louisiana, the situation is much more dire. Some 15.6 percent of all babies were born premature in 2003 - that's nearly 27 percent higher than the national average - and these grave statistics will only worsen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the March of Dimes says. African-American women in Louisiana are at particular risk, delivering premature babies nearly 20 percent of the time. In New Orleans, the premature birth rate was nearly 22 percent in 2002.

Baton Rouge area hospitals and their neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are expected to handle 6,000 additional births in the next six months.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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