PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- As we saw in the most recent Presidential Election, the state is nearly split into two different Maines: politically, economically, socially, and now we're learning, in areas of healthcare and actual health.
The state's former head of the Centers for Disease Control went on the record this week stating Northern Maine's infant mortality rate is on par with several third world countries.
And, according to Dr. Dora Anne Mills, infant mortality rates in rural counties in Maine have risen by very large percentages, "to the point where some of these counties in Maine have rates that are on par with Croatia and Botswana."
It's a pretty big claim, one that Dr. Dora Anne Mills admitted she was shocked over. Infant mortality is the rate of death of babies during that critical first year of life when they completely rely on others for their survival.
The Central Intelligence Agency logs such information in its World Fact Book. In 2016, Croatia reported having 9.5 deaths for every 1,000 births, while Botswana reported 8.6 deaths. The Kids Count Report logs Maine's numbers and reveals an infant mortality rate that registers in the ballpark: ranging from 7.4 to 9.6 infant deaths per 1,000 births, verifying Dr. Mills' claim.
Mills says she pored over data for months---drilling down in each of Maine's counties---searching for causes and effects for infant mortality rates, discovering that the state of Maine is ranked 43rd nationally when it comes to infant mortality rates. "What I learned is that our rural counties, you know those rim counties like Oxford and somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook, Washington and franklin counties actually have much worse rates than our more urban counties such as Cumberland and York counties."
Mills says the causes of death tend to be premature births, or consequences of those, congenital deformities or SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome. She cautions it is important to keep in mind the underlying reasons for the uptick in infant mortalities.
"I think one way to really look at this is that there are threads that make up the fabric of a society and those threads include the economy, include health, population health and health care and education and many other threads and those threads are pretty integrated and rely on eachother." Mills explains that they're all kind of becoming a bit unraveled in some of these rural counties."
In rural parts of Maine, Mills says secondary causes like higher poverty and smoking rates also contribute to this dire situation.
"Our childhood poverty rates have worsened so much in rural counties in Maine that in some of our counties like in Washington County, the childhood poverty rates are 3 times that in York and Cumberland counties."
Dr. Mills calls this disparity in health care and public health systems very concerning and is calling on the state to provide adequate care to everyone. Until that happens, she's convinced those infant mortality numbers will only continue to grow.
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➔ Dr. Dora Anne Mills, VP, Clinical Affairs at University of New England
➔ Central Intelligence Agency
➔ Maine Centers for Disease Control