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For Release:
September 04, 2008

Heather Howard

For Further Information Contact:
Dawn Thomas / Patricia Cabrera, DHSS
(609) 984-7160
Kweli Walker, Black Infant Mortality Reduction Resource Center
(201) 843-7400
Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service

DHSS Releases Prenatal Task Force Report; Recognizing Minority and Multicultural Health Month


NEWARK – In recognition of Minority and Multicultural Health Month, the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) issued its Prenatal Task Force report today which revealed the state's need to promote preconception care and family planning services among women before they get pregnant, to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.  The report was unveiled at the 9th Annual Perinatal Health Disparities Conference at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) Oral Health Pavilion.


“All children deserve a healthy start in life,” said Governor Jon S. Corzine. “The recommendations of the Prenatal Task Force have laid the foundation for New Jersey to improve access and reduce barriers to early prenatal care and help to diminish racial disparities in birth outcomes. We also must ensure that there is a sufficient network of obstetricians and other medical professionals to provide prenatal care to those who seek services.”


Early prenatal care is an important component for a healthy pregnancy,” said Commissioner Howard. “It offers the best opportunity for risk assessment, health education, and the management of pregnancy-related complications and conditions.  Women who receive late or no prenatal care are more likely to have a low birth weight baby or to experience infant mortality.’’


New Jersey ranked 40th in the nation in the percentage of women who received prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy, according to a 2007 study by the National Women’s Law Center.  In New Jersey, while 80 percent of women overall received early prenatal care, only 64 percent of Black women and 69 percent of Hispanic women did.


In New Jersey, although Black infant mortality is decreasing, a Black infant is three times more likely to die before reaching the age of one than a white infant.


The keynote speaker at the conference, Dr. Garth N. Graham, MD, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) emphasized that Black infant health and the reduction of infant mortality disparities is a high priority of HHS and a key objective of Healthy People 2010.


“As part of our infant mortality awareness campaign, A Healthy Baby Begins with You, we just launched the Preconception Peer Educators Program at four college sites,” Garth Graham, MD, MPH, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Minority Health (OMH) “to train and enlist college students as peer educators to work not only in college campuses and neighborhoods, but also in their home communities to help disseminate essential preconception health messages that may seem foreign for a population that may not be actively seeking to start a family.”


As national spokesperson of the OMH A Healthy Baby Begins with you campaign Tonya Lewis Lee, author, producer and wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, highlighted the importance of working at the grass root level to address and help reduce the high infant mortality rates among African Americans.


“As we begin Infant Mortality Awareness Month this September,” said Lewis-Lee, “this conference in New Jersey allows us to explore further how to improve preconception health and care for minorities, and discuss models that have worked and are promising practices for other communities.  I am particularly pleased to get in touch with the health professionals and community organizers who, on the front lines of this battle against health disparities, bring to the target audience the essential message:  a healthy baby does begin with all of us.”


Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Dr. William Owen, president of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, also addressed the conference. Several hundred obstetricians, pediatricians, midwives, nurses, dieticians, social workers and other health professionals attended the day-long conference.


“One of the most important ways we can narrow the gap of health disparities is to provide meaningful family planning services for women,” said DHS Commissioner Jennifer Velez. “DHS is working to secure a federal waiver that will permit women, who would otherwise be ineligible for Medicaid, to access preconception counseling and other family planning services.”


"UMDNJ is honored to serve as the host site for this important forum," said Dr. William F. Owen, Jr., president of UMDNJ. "From researchers examining the impact of nutritional deficiencies on teenage mothers in Camden, to counseling and educational services at our SIDS Center in New Brunswick and clinical care for babies in Newark who are infected with HIV/AIDS, UMDNJ is dedicated to improving maternal and infant health outcomes throughout New Jersey."


Ilise Zimmerman, president and chief executive officer of the Northern NJ Maternal/Child Health Consortium, said the goal of the conference is to “spark attention and action to ensure the survival of African American babies.” Bringing together experts to share their insights into eliminating racial differences in pregnancy outcomes is the role of the Black Infant Mortality Reduction Resource Center. The Center, which has sponsored Disparities conferences each year since its inception in 1999, serves as a national resource on health issues affecting women and children of color.


The Prenatal Task Force found that nearly one third of all pregnancies in New Jersey are unintended, mistimed or unwanted. It recommended increased education of the public as well as health care professionals about the importance of preconception and inter-conception health.


The New Jersey theme for this year’s Minority and Multicultural Health Month is A Healthy Community Begins with You, which coincides with the national Office of Minority Health’s campaign, A Healthy Baby Begins with You.


DHSS encourages New Jersey residents to participate in health events this month to educate themselves about how to take action to improve their health.  This month is a perfect opportunity to schedule a doctor’s visit, start an exercise program, incorporate more fruits and vegetables to the diet and get screened for diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal and prostate cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases which disproportionately impact minority communities.


The Perinatal Health Disparities Conference is co-sponsored by the UMDNJ School of Nursing, the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Northern New Jersey Maternal/Child Health Consortium’s Black Infant Mortality Reduction Resource Center.


A calendar of Minority and Multicultural Health Month events is available at

The Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services was established in 1986 to advise the Secretary and the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) on public health program activities affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.

The Northern New Jersey Maternal/Child Health Consortium (NNJM/CHC) was established in 1992 to improve the physical and mental health of women and children.  Its commitment is exemplified by health education, outreach, partnerships and advocacy. The mission of its Black Infant Mortality Reduction Resource Center is to decrease death rates among infants of African descent through provider and consumer education, health policy, and advocacy.

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