Northern Plains tribes see high infant death rate
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A newly released Indian Health Service study confirms an extremely high infant mortality rate among tribes in the northern Plains, with most of the deaths attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The rate of infant deaths among tribes in Iowa, Nebraska and North and South Dakota is more than twice the national average, the IHS reported. For some tribes, the rates exceeded 30 per 1,000 live births, a rate four to five times greater than the rest of the country.

Tribal leaders in the region had long recognized the phenomenon and, nearly 10 years ago, asked the IHS to investigate. Earlier this year, the results of the effort were presented to the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, which represents 17 tribes and one urban Indian community. The board authorized public release of the information in hopes of educating others.

"There will be many who will benefit from the decision of the Aberdeen area tribes to share this important report with others," said Dr. Charles Grim, the acting IHS director.

Between the years of 1992 and 1996, 72 infants died on reservations in North and South Dakota. Based on a study of 65 cases, SIDS accounted for more than half of the deaths.

SIDS is assigned when no other explanation for an infant's death exists. No one knows for certain what causes SIDS but it can be correlated to pre-natal care, health status of the parents and other factors.

In the Aberdeen area, SIDS deaths were more common among mothers who received less pre-natal care. It was also more common among infants who received fewer doctor visits.

SIDS was more likely among mothers who smoked during pregnancy and to infants who were exposed to smoke. Alcohol use and illicit drug use before and during pregnancy was another factor cited.

Despite the focus on the Plains tribes, SIDS is a problem throughout Indian Country. From the years 1996 to 1998, the rate for American Indian and Alaska Native infants was 160.9 per 100,000 live births compared to 77.1 per 100,00 for all other racial and ethnic groups.

The highest rates were found in the Plains, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The lowest was recorded in the Navajo Nation and among tribes in the Southwest.

The SIDS rate for Indian Country is 22 percent greater than the rate for the entire United States, according to IHS data.

Relevant Documents:
Aberdeen Area Report | Fact Sheet: SIDS in Indian Country | Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen's Health Board Resolution

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -
SIDS Alliance -
National SIDS Resource Center -
American SIDS Institute -

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