September 13, 2012
Roberto Romero, M.D., D.Med.Sci., chief of the Perinatology Research Branch, welcomes Yvonne Maddox, Ph.D., deputy director of the NICHD.
Ellen Robinson trains the first 20 "champions" of the Safe to Sleep program at the Perinatology Research Branch.
The Safe to Sleep campaign continues to spread messages about safe infant sleep practices, with the top recommendation of placing infants on their backs to sleep. Since the start of the campaign, SIDS rates have declined by more than 50 percent across in the United States, but SIDS remains the leading cause of death for infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. The rate of death is twice as high in African-Americans babies and three times higher in American Indian babies.
The goal of the Safe to Sleep Champions Initiative is to share the campaign messages about SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, said Yvonne Maddox, Ph.D., deputy director of the NICHD, who opened the training session at the PRB. The champions trained in Detroit this week, and those at a second session in Atlanta, Ga., next week, will serve as messengers for the campaign in their home states with the media and with the advocacy groups they represent. The NICHD paid for their travel, lodging and training.
The champions at the training session represented organizations and agencies in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wyoming and Michigan, states with some of the highest rates of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4,500 infants die suddenly of no immediately, obvious cause in the United States. Half of those Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths are due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the leading cause of deaths among infants and the third leading cause of infant mortality in the U.S.
While some infant deaths are caused by suffocation or strangulation in what may be considered unsafe sleeping environments (classified as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death), the cause of SIDS has not yet been identified.
Since the NICHD partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics to launch the effort in 1994, SIDS death rates have dropped, Dr. Maddox said, but the annual rate of deaths attributed to SIDS has become static. The rate does not appear to be decreasing further, despite efforts to teach mothers about safe sleep environments and practices, and the importance of placing infants on their backs to sleep.
“You have to keep pushing the message because we have new mothers with new babies all the time,” she said. “The good news is these new mothers, once they are armed with the information, can become new champions in helping to spread the message.”
One of the trainees, Allison Anderson, program manager of Prevent Child Abuse Wyoming, echoed that sentiment. As long as the safe sleep message has been around, “people still don’t know about it,” Anderson said. “We always need a new hook to generate attention.”
Dr. Maddox noted that the decision to launch the effort at the PRB in Detroit is because the branch is the National Institutes of Health’s hub for maternal-fetal medical research, and the city experiences higher rates of SIDS deaths. The NIH placed the branch in Detroit in 2002 because of the region’s higher rates of pre-term birth and infant mortality.
Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., dean of the WSU School of Medicine, addressed the session along with Roberto Romero, M.D., D.Med.Sci., chief of the Perinatology Research Branch.
“You have chosen to become champions and go out and change the world in taking on this cause,” Dean Parisi said. “You could not have selected a better place to begin this effort. The Perinatology Research Branch is a world leader in medical research to combat infant mortality, and Dr. Romero is one of the world’s preeminent leaders in this field.”
The Safe to Sleep practices have been adopted as part of the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan, introduced in August 2012. That plan was developed with the assistance of the Wayne State University School of Medicine and research results developed at the PRB.