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Women's forum addresses infant mortality

Woman speaking at podium

The Women's Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation convened a group of nearly 100 health and social service professionals Sept. 14 to discuss issues related to infant mortality in Summit County. The 2017 Forum on Women and Girls, held at the American Red Cross in Akron, brought together experts, service providers and community leaders to talk about the causes surrounding infant deaths and to brainstorm potential solutions.

Experts from Summit County Public Health and the Minority Behavioral Health Group facilitated a conversation about the growing racial disparity between infant mortality rates in the African-American community and their white counterparts.

"Our black babies are dying at two times the rate of our white babies," said Shaleeta Smith, community health supervisor at Summit County Public Health, who cited statistics showing more than 12 out of every 1,000 black babies die before their first birthday.

Dr. Tania Lodge, clinical director of the Minority Behavioral Health Group, spoke about the importance of addressing the root causes of infant mortality, pointing to poverty as a key factor.

"Cyclical poverty particularly affects the African-American community, and this leads to chronic maternal stress, which leads to premature birth, which leads to infant mortality," she said. "It's imperative that we take a systematic approach (instead of applying) Band-Aids over large wounds."

Participants later met in small groups to discuss the barriers that prevent women from accessing needed services, including transportation, employment, awareness of resources and personal health. They also identified key stakeholders and potential ways to overcome those barriers through changes in policy, community outreach and targeted funding.

"It's not just awareness but also access. Cultural barriers are really important," said Jolene Lane, chief diversity officer at the University of Akron. "We need policies to bridge the gaps between those who are affected and those who can help."

Information and ideas shared at the forum will ultimately shape the Women's Endowment Fund's grant decisions and help the fund focus its resources on programs that are making significant progress on infant mortality. Nonprofit organizations are encouraged to apply for a grant beginning Oct. 12. To learn more about the Women's Endowment Fund and the programs it supports, visit

Major sponsors of the forum included the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation and Signet Jewelers. Stay informed about future events by registering for the Women's Endowment Fund's e-news at

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