Infant and second-year mortality in rural Malawi: causes and descriptive epidemiology

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  • 1 Division of Parasitic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, and International Health Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia; University of Malawi School of Medicine and Ministry of Health, Blantyre, Malawi
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Community information based on causes and circumstances of death in infants and young children in Malawi was obtained in a prospective cohort of babies delivered to women enrolled in a malaria-prevention-in-pregnancy study. Vital status information was obtained through home visits every two months; for children who died, questions were asked concerning age and date of death, symptoms preceding death, care sought, location of death (home versus facility), and duration of illness. Of 3,274 liveborn singleton infants, 181, 397, and 152 deaths occurred in the neonatal, postneonatal, and second year of life, respectively. For neonates, proportionate mortality was greatest for sepsis/tetanus (16.7%) and fever (8.6%); however, for more than half of neonatal deaths evaluated the cause was not identified. Up to 30% of neonatal deaths may have been related to prematurity. In the postneonatal period, gastrointestinal illness (39.6%), fever (18.3%), and respiratory illnesses (14.7%) were the leading causes. Most post-neonatal illnesses lasted 1 week or less. Two-thirds of postneonatal deaths occurred outside of a health care facility, although 80% were brought to a facility for care during their illness. Infectious disease syndromes continued to be important in the second year of life, with gastrointestinal (31.6%), fever (23.5%), and measles (20.6%) the most commonly reported causes of death. In this area of rural sub-Saharan Africa, neonatal mortality contributes substantially to infant mortality, and prematurity is considered to be an important component of early neonatal deaths; infectious disease syndromes predominate in the postneonatal and second year of life. Strategies to reduce infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa must consider these factors, as well as the observations that most children who died had brief illnesses, were taken to a health care facility before death, yet died at home.

Author Notes

Authors’ addresses: Laurence Slutsker, Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop A-38, Atlanta, GA 30333. Peter Bloland, Division of Parasitic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333. Richard W. Steketee, Epidemiology Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop E-45, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. Jack J. Wirima, University of Malawi School of Medicine and Ministry of Health, Blantyre, Malawi. David L. Heymann, Emerging and Other Communicable Diseases Programme, World Health Organization, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Joel G. Breman, Division of International Training and Research, Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Building 31, Room B2C 39, Bethesda, MD 20892-2220.

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