Infant Mortality on Pine Ridge
The CIA World Factbook estimates that the infant mortality rate (IMR) for the U.S. was 6 deaths out of every 1000 live births in 2012. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, the IMR is 300% higher than the national average… meaning that out of every 1000 live births, 18 of those infants will not make it to their first birthday.
As tired as this kind of expression has become, statistics from Pine Ridge rival that of many emerging and developing countries. Sadly, this isn’t happening in an emerging nation – it’s happening in America. Regardless of one’s ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status, not a single group of Americans should have to endure what many on the Pine Ridge Reservation do.
Americans have come to expect a certain level of care for mothers-to-be, newborns, and moms who recently gave birth. Yet, on Pine Ridge, what may be normal or expected care for mainstream Americans is a luxury for the Oglala Lakota. This is not surprising considering all the factors working against healthy mothers and babies.
Take into account things like poverty, food insecurity, isolation, and a general lack of access to the most basic necessities. Then contemplate the more subtle aspects that shape one’s quality of life. A deficiency in health literacy, education, and emotional well being combined with unaccounted fallout from historical trauma reveal the true source of the imbalance between IRM on Pine Ridge and the rest of the nation.
A long-time Program Partner, Oglala Sioux Tribe Healthy Start worked diligently and directly with at-risk mothers and their babies to reduce the IMR on Pine Ridge. As a Program Partner, Roberta Ecoffey of OST Healthy Start received high-quality products for moms and babies through our AIRC Baby Baskets service. Because the AIRC products are much needed by moms, Roberta felt this helped them encourage participation in Healthy Start immunizations, post-natal checkups, and parenting classes. As a result, they were able to rank among the top of Healthy Starts in their region.
Despite their success, however, conditions on Pine Ridge that are outside of OST Healthy Start’s influence left this useful program homeless. Since December 2011, they have been dealt setback after setback. High levels of asbestos forced them out of their original office. They then moved to a trailer that was later found to be infested with mold. From there, they were relocated to a storage room behind a video store, which was eventually condemned by the Indian Health Service because of possible exposure to Hanta Virus.
Yet, hope is not lost. Campaigning is underway by a group called Lakota Healthy Start to raise the funds for a new building and continue the fight against infant mortality on Pine Ridge. The struggle against the high IMR is a good example of change that comes from within the tribe. It is their best chance, after years of federal failure to honor treaty obligations and misconceptions about free healthcare for Native Americans.