PRENATAL CARE: More Latinas Seeking Care, Lower Infant Mortality
Despite an increasing number of Latinas that are seeking early prenatal care, jumping from 64% in 1992 to 77% in 1997, the rate is still below women of other ethnicities, according to a study by the Orange County Health Care Agency. The Los Angeles Times reports that in 1997, 91% of non-Hispanic white women, 87% of Asian women and 83% of African-American women sought early prenatal care. Between 1992 and 1997, Latinas represented the largest increase of any ethnic group. Experts say this increase is important "because Latina mothers are responsible for the largest number of births in the county and are traditionally the least likely to seek prenatal care." And despite Latinas' lower rates of prenatal care, Latino infant mortality rates nationwide are generally lower (4 deaths per 1,000 births) than those for non-Hispanic whites (4.4 per 1,000).
Health care experts generally have attributed higher survivability for infants to higher income, higher education levels and access to prenatal care. But babies born to Latina immigrants with generally lower incomes, less education and less prenatal care, are experiencing greater survival rates. Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and director of UCLA's Center for the Study of Latino Health termed the phenomenon a "Hispanic epidemiological paradox." He suggested looking into culture, adding, "The behavior, attitudes and practices of pregnant women tend to be enveloped in a strong family network. There's also the issue of spirituality. There's a whole host of things we need to understand, and I'm the first to say we don't understand it very well." Yvette Bojorquez, program director of the not-for-profit Maternal Outreach Management System Resource Center, said that although the low infant mortality rates are encouraging, Latinas should not forgo prenatal care. She said, "Even though our babies are surviving, a lot of them are born with low birth weight. That child might develop problems later. What we want is for babies to be healthy. That goes beyond survival."
The numbers of Latinas receiving prenatal care also increased after the declared unconstitutionality of Proposition 187, which would have denied most government-funded health care to illegal immigrants. Jacqueline Cherewick, chair of the Orange County Coalition of Community Clinics, said that now "we're seeing people coming back. Although immigration is a legitimate issue that needs to be taken care of, it is not a health care issue anymore." A program run through the MOMS Resource Center in Santa Ana provides free pre-natal care for about 73 Spanish- speaking women in seven cities every month. And although Latinas "generally do not rush to the doctor when they suspect or know they are pregnant," MOMS outreach workers slowly are changing their minds. Rosa Solis, a program educator, said, "We have a really nice number of young mothers wanting to be able to do the right thing. They no longer want to do it the way Mom used to do it or the way Grandma did it. I think that's very healthy." Solis added that cultural aspects should be studied as Latinas "ten to have a really quick bonding process with the babies ... and regard children as gifts of God and place the well-being of their children above all else." Dr. Mark Horton, the county's public health director, said, "Overall, Orange County is doing pretty well. The real challenge, if we're going to continue to progress, is to know what the difference is in these populations and then use that knowledge to make sure that all women have access to quality prenatal care and that it starts early. It's an exciting time" (Fernandez, 10/27).