Fighting A Rising Infant Mortality Rate

Kawiya Davis, Rolling Fork, Mississippi, infant mortality rate EVENING NEWS, 6.3.07
Barb Williams has dropped in on Kawiya Davis once or twice a week since Kawiya's son was born three months ago.

Kawiya dropped out of seventh grade to have her baby. She plans to go back, but right now she's learning other things from Barb.

"How to burp and stuff," said Kawiya Davis. "They told us not to lay them on a pillow on their stomach."

Kawiya and baby Deqarius live with five more family members in a trailer in Rolling Fork, the heart of the Delta.

"They come here and helped out because this is my first child," said Kawaya.

She needed it, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason. The Davis family's monthly income is $623, and Kawiya was cut off Medicaid for a while after Deqarius was born.

Williams is one of four home visitors from the Cary Christian Center in Cary, Mississippi, whose mission is to help pregnant women and new mothers in Sharkey and Issaquena counties. For 18 years the center has been busing women to the only prenatal classes for miles around.

In 2005, when Mississippi's infant mortality rate leapt to more than 11 per thousand, and the black population was losing babies at 17 per thousand, none died in Sharkey or Issaquena counties.

From 1991 to 2004, Sharkey County's black infant death rate was around 5 per thousand, beating the overall national average of about 7 per thousand.

Mississippi is federally designated as medically underserved, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Delta, where, as people here say, only the soil is rich.

Dr. Christina Glick says the Cary Center is saving Mississippi lives and money by providing preventive health care.

"Continual, consistent care provided by lay visitors who give education, support, provide transportation, provide medicine," said Glick.

Lydia Berry starts with the basics: the anatomy of pregnancy, symptoms, how to take care of yourself. And a little of the Good Book.

CBS News attended one clas full of pregnat women. All were teenagers, none were married, none were in school and none were employed.

The Cary Center is battling is a rural culture in which teen pregnancy and a hardscrabble life are the norm.

Still, word has spread. Seventeen-year-old Shondrinique Lindsey's friends told her the center would teach her things she wants to know.

"How to be a good parent when I grow up," said Lindsey. "How to take care of my baby on my own."

But not alone. The home visitors are available 24/7. They are from the Delta, and they share this place's past and future.

Williams, who remembers her mother picking cotton for a living, was herself a teenage mom.

The only thing the Cary Center withholds is judgment. They preach abstinence, but then care for a clientele that is clearly not listening.

"The bottom line to this ministry is definitely to bring people to the Lord," said Caroline Newhoff, a coordinator of Parent Child Ministry. "I don't know always how successful I've been."

Rather, Caroline Newhoff's success is evident in the living babies of Sharkey County, some of whom are now coming back with babies of their own.

Kawiya's mom Vicky went to the Cary Center 18 years ago with her firstborn.

"People come out and talk to you about your baby and let you know you ain't alone," said Vicky Davis.

The Cary Center says one key to its success in the areas it serves is that the young women there are particularly receptive to outside advice and counsel.