Published: Jul 06, 2011 4:19 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 06, 2011 3:20 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina's rate of infant deaths has dropped for the fourth year in a row, state health officials reported Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Wednesday that the overall decline is attributed to a decrease in accidental suffocations in bed and a drop in cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is the sudden, unexpected death of a baby less than one year old that has no explanation.

"Our state's overall infant mortality rate shows a downward trend over the past four years," DHEC Commissioner Earl Hunter said in a statement.

The agency says the 2009 infant mortality rate was 7.1 deaths for each 1,000 live births. That's down from the rate of 8.0 deaths for each 1,000 live births in 2008.

Hunter said the leading causes of death among infants less than a year old are congenital malformations and disorders among infants born prematurely or too small.

Hunter said the 2009 rate also represents the fourth year in a row that the infant mortality rates show a decline among blacks, but that those rates remain a concern.

"Minority women still experience infant mortality rates at 2.1 times the rate of white women. Eliminating this disparity must remain a priority," Hunter said.

Hunter said the cuts in mortality are connected to what he called a "multifaceted effort."

He cited work with the state's private physicians, cooperation with faith-based organizations and a partnership with the organization March of Dimes as helping stem the number of infant deaths.

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