By Hazel Gaines, MS, RN

Once again, Mississippi is the state with the highest rate of child deaths in the nation. The average rate for the country, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics available (2007), is 19 child deaths for every 100,000 children age birth to 14 years. The rate for Mississippi is almost twice that: 34 child deaths for every 100,000 children under age 15.

Mississippi’s Child Death Review Panel (CDRP) has been working since 2006 to bring down the number of preventable child deaths by determining why and how Mississippi children die. Operating under the auspices of the Mississippi State Department of Health, the CDRP works with over 20 state agencies, community organizations, and professional organizations to coordinate a review of unexpected child deaths from birth to age 18, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The CDRP issues a report for the previous year each December detailing the causes of the deaths of Mississippi children, and making recommendations for ways to decrease those deaths.

The latest CDRP Report details the causes of 278 deaths of the total 709 child deaths statewide in 2008. The 709 deaths in 2008 are a significant drop from the 745 child deaths reported for 2006 and the 765 deaths reported for 2007. Harrison and Rankin Counties had the highest number of child deaths at 17 and 13 respectively. Hinds County reported 11 child deaths, and Lincoln, Pearl River, Scott, Warren and Washington Counties each reported 8 deaths.

Of the 278 cases reviewed, more than 60 percent of the children who died were boys, 50 percent were white and 47 percent were African American. More than 15 percent of the children who died had an illness or other medical problem.

Of the 38 SIDS deaths, most babies died sleeping on their stomachs rather than on their backs, most had a smoker in the household (which has been associated with SIDS), and 76 percent were under four months of age.

The greatest number of preventable deaths, 76, was caused by vehicular crashes, most of which were car crashes. Forty, or more than half of the children killed in car crashes, were age 15-17. The number of children killed who were not wearing seatbelts has decreased since 2006 when Mississippi’s Primary Seatbelt Law was passed; in 2007 it was less than 40 percent. The overall numbers of children killed has also decreased since 2006, when 87 children were killed.

An increasing number of Mississippi children are killed or maimed in ATV crashes each year. Ten children were killed in ATV crashes in 2008.

Thirty Mississippi children were killed by firearms; 14 of these deaths were homicides, eight were suicides, and seven were accidental. Twenty-five of the children who died were boys, 23 were teens age 15-17, and 17 were killed by handguns. Firearms deaths have been increasing since 2006, when 18 such deaths were reported.

Mississippi has a high rate of fire deaths compared to other states: in 2008, seven children died and 71 percent were under three years of age. In 2007, 19 children died in fires.

Mississippi also has a high rate of child drownings compared to other states. In 2008, 14 children drowned and nine of those were under 5 years old. Most of the drownings happened in a natural setting such as a creek, a river or a pond.

The Child Death Review Panel continues to recommend that child injury and death prevention be a priority for policy makers. The Booster Seat Law of 2008, the Graduated Teen Driver’s License Bill of 2009, and the Jason Flatt Act of 2009 will all help to prevent child deaths in our state. The CDRP now recommends new ATV Safety laws in hopes of reversing the increasing number of children killed and severely injured in roll-overs and other ATV crashes. Too many children dying needlessly is one distinction Mississippi could do without.
Gaines, MS, RN, is the coordinator of the Child Death Review Panel for the Mississippi State Department of Health.
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