LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Indiana’s infant mortality rate fell at the highest rate in six years, state officials said, though the rate remains far above the national average.

Indiana health officials said that in 2018, 6.8 Hoosier babies in 1,000 died before age 1, down 6.8% from a year earlier. The national rate for 2018 is not yet available, but it hovered at 5.8% or 5.9% between 2014 and 2017. If that rate held steady in 2018, it would mean Indiana’s rate remains 17% above the national average.

State Department of Health officials also emphasized that they had made strides in infant mortality rates among Hoosiers who are Hispanic or black. The rate for Hispanic infants fell 20%, to 6.1 per 1,000, or about the same as for non-Hispanic white infants. The rate for non-Hispanic black infants fell to 13 per 1,000, down from 15.4 a year earlier.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the state has been investing heavily in improving health outcomes as it works toward its stated goal of having the Midwest’s lowest infant’s mortality rate by 2024.

“It’s heartening to see those efforts pay off,” Box said.

The state said in a news release that Box was “encouraged by an across-the-board decrease,” but said “the state will continue to work with partners to address persistent racial disparities.”

Indiana had the 7th-worst infant mortality rate in 2017. The 2018 rate would have tied for 13th-worst that year, which would be the state’s best ranking in at least five years, as it has ranked among the worst 10 states in each of the last four years.

Mississippi or Alabama have ranked last in each of the last four years with rates exceeding eight in 1,000. Their neighbors Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee also generally rank near the bottom. States in the northeast and the West Coast usually have the nation’s lowest infant mortality rates, at about 4.2 in 1,000.

Kentucky’s rate in each of the last four years has ranked among the 18 worst. It had ranked among the 21 best states in 2005, with a rate of 6.8 per 1,000.

While the national rate since 2005 has improved by 18.3%, Indiana’s rate has improved 17.1%, while Kentucky’s rate has improved 4.4%.

Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.