State Reps. Thomas West (D-Canton) and Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) today introduced a bill to address infant mortality through increased sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening for expectant mothers. The legislation would require healthcare professionals to test pregnant women for HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea at different points of the pregnancy in order to connect mother and baby to appropriate treatment and counseling.

“This bill is about giving babies a healthy and strong start in life and connecting mothers with the tools they need to be successful,” said West. “Women and babies in the U.S. are dying at higher rates than other industrialized nations, while Ohio continues trailing behind other states in health outcomes. Although it seems we are beginning to reverse the overall infant mortality rate in Ohio, we must continue addressing deep racial disparities and all pieces of this complex issue head on so we may truly improve the lives of Ohio’s families.”   

A recent New York Times report revealed that between 2012 and 2016, the rate of congenital syphilis increased by 87 percent nationally. The sexually transmitted disease, which can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or birth, can be severe and often life-threatening in infants. At the same time, racial disparities in birth outcomes in Ohio continued to increase in 2017, and the state continued to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. West and Galonski’s bill aims to play a small but important role in improving maternal and infant health outcomes.

“As a mother and grandmother, I cannot even imagine the pain families go through when they lose an infant,” said Galonski. “We need to do everything we can to ensure the health and well-being of our most vulnerable population. Infant mortality is a complicated issue with racial and socioeconomic hurdles to conquer. This bill is a good step towards ensuring that mothers and their babies are healthy, protected, and safe.”

Stark County, which encompasses parts of West’s district, saw an increase in infant mortality, climbing from 9.0 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 to 9.5 in 2017, above the national average of 7.6. Akron, which covers parts of Galonski’s district, has some zip codes with the highest rates of infant mortality in the state.

West and Galonski introduced similar legislation in 2018, House Bill 613, but it received only one hearing before the end of the 132nd General Assembly in December.

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