Research

Child mortality trends and causes of death in South Africa, 1997 - 2012, and the importance of a national burden of disease study

N N Nannan, P Groenewald, V Pillay-van Wyk, E Nicol, W Msemburi, R E Dorrington, D Bradshaw

Abstract


Background. The Rapid Mortality Surveillance System has reported reductions in child mortality rates in recent years in South Africa (SA). In this article, we present information about levels of mortality and causes of death from the second SA National Burden of Disease Study (SA NBD) to inform the response required to reduce child mortality further.

Objectives. To estimate trends in and causes of childhood mortality at national and provincial levels for the period 1997 - 2012, to highlight the importance of the SA NBD.

Methods. Numbers of registered child deaths were adjusted for under-reporting. Adjustments were made for the misclassification of AIDS deaths and the proportion of ill-defined natural causes. Non-natural causes were estimated using results from the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System for 2000 and the National Injury Mortality Survey for 2009. Six neonatal conditions and 11 other causes were consolidated from the SA NBD and the Child Health Epidemiological Reference Group lists of causes of death for the analysis. The NBD cause-fractions were compared with those from Statistics South Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Results. Under-5 mortality per 1 000 live births increased from 65 in 1997 to 79 in 2004 as a result of HIV/AIDS, before dropping to 40 by 2012. The neonatal mortality rate declined from 1997 to 2001, followed by small variations. The death rate from diarrhoeal diseases began to decrease in 2008 and the death rate from pneumonia from 2010. By 2012, neonatal deaths accounted for 27% of child deaths, with conditions associated with prematurity, birth asphyxia and severe infections being the main contributors. In 1997, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape provinces had the highest under-5 mortality, close to 80 per 1 000 live births. Mortality rates in North West were in the mid-range and then increased, placing this province in the highest group in the later years. The Western Cape had the lowest mortality rate, declining throughout the period apart from a slight increase in the early 2000s.

Conclusions. The SA NBD identified the causes driving the trends, making it clear that prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the Expanded Programme on Immunisation and programmes aimed at preventing neonatal deaths need to be equitably implemented throughout the country to address persistent provincial inequalities in child deaths. The rapid reduction of childhood mortality since 2005 suggests that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal target of 25 per 1 000 for under-5 mortality is achievable for SA. Comparison with alternative estimates highlights the need for cause-of-death data from civil registration to be adjusted using a burden-of-disease approach.

 


Authors' affiliations

N N Nannan, Burden of Disease Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

P Groenewald, Burden of Disease Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

V Pillay-van Wyk, Burden of Disease Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

E Nicol, Burden of Disease Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

W Msemburi, Department of Statistics, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa

R E Dorrington, Centre for Actuarial Research, Faculty of Commerce, University of Cape Town, South Africa

D Bradshaw, Burden of Disease Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

Under-5 mortality; Causes of death in children under 5; National Burden of Disease Study; Inequalities in health; South Africa; Child mortality indicators; Sustainable Development Goals; Under-5 mortality targets

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(7):480-485. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i7.13717

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-06-28
Date published: 2019-06-28

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