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Topics / HEALTH : Hard-Hitting Advertisements Push Prenatal Care : Group uses a variety of informative methods, including shock tactics, in bid to give black babies a good start in life. And the campaigns seem to work.

July 28, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The colorful, carefully detailed ad is hardly the sort associated with babies: a fetus curled up in an umbilical cord, suckling a grotesquely oversized bottle of malt liquor for nourishment, a tear squeezing out of one closed eye. "Her Birth Defects Came In 40 oz.," reads the ominous slogan across the bottom.

The photo assaults viewers rather than giving them the warm fuzzies, and that is exactly the effect that Zola Jones is after. "We have a serious problem with alcohol, and it needs to be addressed seriously," said Jones, project director of Great Beginnings for Black Babies, which, in collaboration with Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, provides prenatal care and information services. "It's not negative, it's provocative."

Next month, Jones and other Great Beginnings staffers plan to launch their latest media campaign, this time aimed at reducing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among the black population.

The hard-hitting ads--more than 4,000 of them--will go up this summer all over Los Angeles County on billboards and buses, and in shopping malls and subway and rail stations. The warnings against drinking during pregnancy will also be disseminated in community lectures, forums, workshops, radio ads, health fairs and exhibits over the next year.

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Jones said Great Beginnings generated some controversy with its last campaign, a graphic depiction of the effects of a mother's drug use on a newborn, and the new campaign is also controversial. At a recent unveiling of the ad, some health educators objected to its implication that all African Americans swill malt liquor, which is cheap and potent.

"But the fact is that Olde English, Colt 45, these companies target blacks in their marketing," Jones said. "We have to target just as hard. We're out there competing with lots of other ads and billboards, the malt liquor ones among them."

The campaign will run in South-Central and Southwest Los Angeles, Inglewood, Compton, Pasadena and Long Beach.

If Jones had her way, the word would be spread even farther. A retired nurse for the county health department, Jones and a core staff of about six have worked tirelessly since 1990 to reduce the black infant mortality rate, which is startlingly higher than that of other ethnic groups. (In 1991 in Los Angeles County, the mortality rate for blacks was 15 per 1,000 live births; for whites, 8.7; for Latinos, 6.7, and 4.9 for Asians and Pacific Islanders.)

The efforts of Great Beginnings have paid off. Last year, the state reported that black infant mortality was down from 21 per 1,000 in 1989. Officials cited Great Beginnings as one of the reasons for the improvement.

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In its four years, the nonprofit organization has grown dramatically. It now has a center staffed by public health nurses at Daniel Freeman Hospital, as well as a family and community service center in the Hawthorne Mall. It is providing 400 women with free prenatal and parenting services.

Jones said her organization must now focus on morbidity--the rate of disease in a designated population. Pressing problems among black babies, she said, are low birth weight, developmental and emotional problems, congenital heart problems and other effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and substance abuse.

"Morbidity is just as important as mortality--it affects education and a lot of other things later on," Jones said. "We want to continue to be the best we can be."

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