Childhood mortality was at unacceptably high levels in South
Africa and the leading cause was HIV/Aids, the SA Medical
Research Council said today.
HIV/Aids had accounted for 40% of the deaths of young children in
2000, head of the MRC's Burden of Disease research unit Debbie
Bradshaw said in a statement.
"Although the percentage of deaths is higher in the 1-4 year age
group, the largest number of deaths occurs in the under-one age
group," she said.
The MRC identified three broad areas that would require differing
approaches for prevention:
the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, even at
its current efficacy, is the single most effective intervention
to reduce mortality among under five year olds, eclipsing all
other interventions for other causes of death combined;
although dominated by the rise of HIV/Aids, the classic
infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections and
malnutrition are still important causes of mortality; and
road traffic accidents and violence, which includes homicide and
suicide is another group of high mortality conditions that will
require dedicated interventions.
Bradshaw said that the leading causes of death among children
aged one and four in 2000 were associated with poor
"Many of these deaths can be prevented. Reducing poverty, meeting
basic needs and adopting a comprehensive primary health care
approach with renewed vigour must be high on the agenda in the
next few years."
In older children aged between five and 14, it was found that as
children get older, external causes of death (e.g. road traffic
injuries and drowning) rise in importance.
"This is particularly noticeable among boys who die in greater
numbers than girls," Bradshaw said.
In recent years mortality among young adults, and in particular
young women, has increased dramatically as a result of HIV/Aids.
Such mortality and also the illness preceding it, had a
devastating effect on children leading to increased morbidity,
mortality and orphanhood, she said.
"One of the most important results of the roll-out of
anti-retroviral therapy among the general population will be the
extension of the lives of Aids sick parents leading to a dramatic
decline in the number of orphans."
The study, which was partially funded by Unicef South Africa to
focus on the burden of disease among children particularly
children under the age of five years, highlighted that without an
intervention to extend the lives of people living with Aids, the
total premature mortality burden in South Africa could be
expected to double by 2010, she said.