WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A task force comprised of local health advocates and physicians are banding together to address concerning racial gaps in the Cape Fear’s infant mortality rates.

Black infants are less likely to survive to their first birthday than white infants. North Carolina is the 11th worst state in the nation for infant death with a consistent and stagnant gap in outcomes among African Americans and Non-Hispanic whites.

After a 2018 report highlighting the racial disparities in infant mortality rates, New Hanover Regional Medical Center identified eliminating those gaps as a top priority. The effort has grown since then and blossomed into a robust network of helpers, known as First Year Cape Fear.

“Knowing that babies are dying –Black babies are dying at a higher rate and that Black moms are also dying at a higher rate is really striking. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating to know, especially because we know the root cause of this is racism,” said First Year Cape Fear’s lead, Marissa Bryant Franks.

Franks is also the health equity outreach coordinator at NHRMC.

In New Hanover County, Black babies are 2.3 times more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies. In Columbus County its 2.2 times, and in Pender County, Black babies are 4.8 times more likely to die than white infants.

Dr. Naomi Flock is a community family physician at Med North who serves as a physician voice for First Year Cape Fear.