International impact: Faculty travel to Ghana seeking clues to Worcester’s infant mortality mystery

For years, Worcester has had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the commonwealth: nearly nine infants per thousand born to mothers in the city die before their first birthdays. Statewide, the rate is five per thousand and nationwide, seven per thousand. The Worcester Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force (WIMRTF), formed in 1996 and currently chaired by Marianne E. Felice, MD, chair and professor of pediatrics, has explored various causes for these high rates, but hard evidence to help clinicians lower the rate remains elusive.

“Most of the Worcester mothers who lose infants just don’t fit the profile of women who are at risk,” said Dr. Felice. “They are married, they receive adequate prenatal care, they don’t smoke, and they don’t use drugs. But the Task Force found something we can’t yet explain: a higher percentage of infants born to Ghanaian immigrant mothers in the city are delivered very prematurely, too premature to survive. We just don’t know why.”

This summer, a team of five UMMS and GSN faculty and one UMass Memorial Health Care nurse traveled to Ghana—where approximately 50 infants per thousand do not survive their first year—to seek clues to what may be keeping the infant mortality rate high among Worcester’s Ghanaian community. Read more