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. Birth And Rebirth In New Orleans

Even before the hurricane struck in 2005, Louisiana's premature birth rate was well above the national average and increasing fast, she said. The state also had above-average rates of uninsured, obesity and smoking. Health advocates fear that in the stressful post-Katrina landscape, the problem will grow worse.
by Olga Pierce
UPI Health Business Correspondent
Washington (UPI) March 15, 2007
After Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is in the midst of a rebirth -- but advocates are struggling to make it a good place to give birth. The destruction of the city's health infrastructure, combined with a spike in the proportion of citizens who are uninsured, has made it harder than ever for expecting mothers to get the care they need.

On an average week in Louisiana, 117 babies are born to mothers who receive inadequate prenatal care, 137 babies are born with low birth weights, and 12 die before their first birthday, according to the March of Dimes.

Hospitals are reporting an increase of mothers in labor who come to emergency rooms without having received any prenatal care at all -- the result of an increasingly poor, uninsured, unemployed and transient population, said David Ward, president and chief executive officer of Daughters of Charity Services in New Orleans, a Catholic service organization.

The lack of prenatal and well-baby services is "one of the absolute top concerns of healthcare in this region," Ward told United Press International.

The devastation of facilities and ongoing staffing issues mean that rebuilding efforts are progressing at a snail's pace, he added.

To help meet those needs, Daughters of Charity Services has teamed up with the March of Dimes, other community groups and unlikely partners in the Arab state of Qatar to provide mobile services to pregnant women and babies.

After national fundraising by the March of Dimes raised $2 million, and $3 million more arrived from the Amir of Qatar's Katrina fund, the groups announced Wednesday they are launching a program that will send three mobile healthcare vehicles to areas in need of prenatal services.

The vehicles are like small doctor's offices with private exam areas, waiting areas, nurses' station and an area to draw blood. They are equipped with fetal monitors, ultrasound, other equipment and a backup generator.

Once operational, the groups predict they will provide 15,000 visits over the next three years.

"Not having services contributes to risky and premature birth outcomes," said Jennifer Howse, national president of the March of Dimes. "We are extremely concerned."

Even before the hurricane struck in 2005, Louisiana's premature birth rate was well above the national average and increasing fast, she said. The state also had above-average rates of uninsured, obesity and smoking. Health advocates fear that in the stressful post-Katrina landscape, the problem will grow worse.

"We think there will be many, many moms and families coming for services," she told UPI. "This is a happy day for us."

The mobile program offers hope to expecting mothers living in the city, Suzette Wilkinson told UPI. Wilkinson moved to the United States from Panama four years ago when she married her husband.

Like many mothers in Louisiana, Wilkinson, who is due in July, cannot afford private health insurance. Because she is not a U.S. citizen, she is also ineligible for charity hospital services or Medicaid.

"I found it really hard to find prenatal care for myself," she said, and many other women she knows face the same problem.

That lack of care was especially problematic when she had two difficult pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, she said. "I had an ectopic pregnancy, but when I went to the hospital I was treated like I was acting up even though I was bleeding to death."

When her 2-year-old son was born, she was able to get the care she needed and he was born healthy, Wilkinson said, and she looks forward to getting more compassionate care from the Daughters of Charity who will be staffing the mobile care units.

Citizenship is not the only barrier to prenatal care, she added. "Really it's hard enough even if you're a citizen.

"I think our little babies shouldn't suffer because their parents can't afford insurance. I'd really like other moms to have the opportunity to get good care and have happy, healthy children."

Source: United Press International

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