JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- For the second year in a row, the number of babies born premature is on the rise across the country, especially in Duval County, according to the latest premature birth report card from the March of Dimes.
In 2015, nearly 1,500 babies or 11.5 percent of babies in Duval County were born premature. That's slightly higher than 11.2 percent in 2014, but still higher than the state average of 10 percent. The March of Dimes gave the county an F on their latest premature birth report card.
"11.5 percent prematurity rate is horrible, that’s almost Sub-Saharan Africa almost, that’s what we’re dealing with,” said chair Obstetrics & Gynecology UF Health Dr. Guy Benrubi.
Dr. Guy Benrubi of UF Health believes there are multiple reasons why this is on ongoing problem in Duval County.
“You see people coming in on cocaine, you see people coming in on opioids and a lot of them are in premature labor because they’re on a lot of these toxic agents they should not be taking," he said.
Dr. Benrubi says combine the drug use with poor nutrition, as well.
“If you’re right here in the middle of the center city, you don’t have a lot of grocery stores," he said. "It’s a huge problem and requires a lot of support."
“We also do see an issue with certain parts of the county being what we call a food dessert, without access to go healthy nutrition,” said director family relations Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition Tracy Claveau.
The non-profit Healthy Start Coalition is currently working with over 3,000 women, both pregnant and with newborns to increase the importance of good nutrition.
“They meet the parents at their homes, they will see a child a daycare, to provide them with educational services as well as necessary referrals they need to have a healthy pregnancy or healthy baby,” Claveau said.
Both say with so many services, it's disheartening to see Duval County's premature birthrate continue to climb.
“Unfortunately with the opioid epidemic out there, I predict, it’s going to get worse," Dr. Benrubi said. “It’s needs the whole society to fix this problem."