Last year, South Carolina set a record low in infant mortality rates for the first time in eight years. However, 55 infants still died last year due to severe brain and spinal defects, known generally as neural tube defects. In total, 6.5 of every 1,000 infants in South Carolina will die within a year of birth, compared to the national average of 5.87 deaths out of every 1,000 births. What accounts for the Palmetto State’s high rate?
The answer lies in communication, or rather miscommunication. The Centers for Disease Control has posted research throughout the years encouraging pregnant women to supplement their diets with 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Although infant care in general has been improving, folic acid deficiencies continue to drive the rise in neural defects.
According to an investigative piece by The Post and Courier entitled Cradle of Shame, eight out of 46 counties in South Carolina do not have an obstetrician, a physician who specializes in women’s health during pregnancy. The article also cites that the state’s medical program provides doctors with little incentive to work in rural areas. Appropriate healthcare is still too expensive for many mothers in the state. Those who receive Medicaid may not have access to an obstetrician, making it useless. This vicious cycle of high healthcare costs and a lack of access to basic prenatal services results in many preventable birth defects among rural and impoverished populations.
Efforts are being made to reverse this troubling trend. Gov. Nikki Haley designated January as the Birth Defects Prevention month in 2012. The CDC is boosting their efforts to raise awareness regarding neural tube defects. They hope that educating expectant mothers about the need for folic acid will cause a drop in defect rates. Recognizing that most pregnancies are unplanned, the CDC cautions that starting a folic acid routine after conception may be too late to prevent birth defects. However, the proper dosage of folic acid may be found in daily multivitamins and all women capable of pregnancy are encouraged to start a multivitamin routine as soon as possible.