Little change in SA’s child mortality rate
South Africa continues to lag behind in reducing the child mortality rate, while poorer or war-torn countries have made more progress than it has in cutting the number of deaths, a UN report has revealed.
The 2011 report, “Levels and Trends in Child Mortality”, issued by Unicef and the World Health Organisation, shows that 12 000 children were saved each day in sub-Saharan Africa last year – a vast improvement on figures from 1990 – while in South Africa there had been little change.
According to the report, the under-five mortality rate in the country is almost as it was in 1990, and last year 58 000 children died before their fifth birthday.
The report’s table of figures shows that the number of deaths among every 1 000 live births in South Africa in 1990 was 60.
Last year the figure was 57.
The UN’s Millennium Development Goal is to reduce the number of deaths to 20 among every 1 000 live births by 2015.
HIV/Aids and the limited implementation of packages of care have been said to be hampering progress in reducing the childhood mortality rate.
The report noted that between 1990 and last year, the under-five mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa dropped by more than one third, from 88 deaths in 1 000 live births to 57.
Among the countries that have taken the lead in reducing the incidence of child mortality are some that are poor or have been ravaged by war, such as Niger, Malawi, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Economically and politically South Africa is doing well compared with these countries, but little has changed regarding reducing its child mortality rate.
The report shows that newborns and infants continue to be most at risk of dying. More than 40 percent of under-five deaths occurred within the first month of life and more than 70 percent in the first year.
Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said the news that the rate of child mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa was declining twice as fast showed that “we can make progress even in the poorest places”.
“But we cannot forget the chilling fact of about 21 000 children a day dying of preventable causes,” he said.
Heather Zar, head of the department of paediatrics and child health at UCT and Red Cross Children’s Hospital, expressed concern about the rate of child mortality in South Africa.
“We will not be able to achieve Millennium Development Goal targets of reducing child mortality,” she said.
“However, there have been important interventions in the past few years in South Africa that I think will reverse the trend in child mortality.
“These are better and improved coverage of prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programmes, early use of antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected children, and the introduction of two important childhood vaccines to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea.”
Fidel Hadebe, spokesman for Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, described the high levels of child mortality as “worrying”. But he said measures had been introduced to deal with this challenge, and others were being introduced.
These included the HIV/-Aids treatment guidelines introduced recently, and the establishment of the Office of Health Standards Compliance, one of the goals of which was to prevent infection.
“We have had cases where poor infection control in our hospitals has led to disease outbreak and this is another area we are concentrating on,” Hadebe said. - Cape Argus