Infant mortality rates still high in SA

A total of 58,000 infants under the age of five died in South Africa last year, according to a United Nations report released on Thursday.

The 2011 "Levels and Trends in Child Mortality" report places the country in the same category as its northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, when it comes to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing infant mortality by two thirds by 2015.

"No progress: under-five mortality is at least 40 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010, and the average annual rate of reduction is less than 1% over [the period] 1990-2010," the report states in a caption attached to a world map.

South Africa, along with about a dozen other countries, all in Africa, is highlighted in red on the map, an indication it is not moving forward fast enough in curbing infant mortality.

In contrast, the report shows that internationally - between 1990 and 2010 - the under-five mortality rate dropped by more than one-third, from 88 deaths per 1000 live births, to 57.

Infant mortality in SA

The report was issued by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, which is led by Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and includes the World Bank and the UN Population Division.

According to a statistical table included in the document, the number of deaths per 1000 live births among under-fives in South Africa in 1990 was 60. In 2010, it was 57. The country's MDG target for 2015 is 20.

The report also looks at neonatal mortality rates (involving new-borns up to one month old) in South Africa. Among this group, the deaths per 1000 live births was 18 in 1990. In 2010, it remained the same.

Among its key findings, the report finds that deaths among under-five infants "are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, while the share of the rest of the world dropped from 31 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2010".

Aids hampering progress in SA

However, six of the 14 best performing countries - those that had seen reductions in under-five mortality of at least 50% between 1990 and 2010 - were in sub-Saharan Africa.

Included among these was Madagascar (61%), Malawi (59%) and Tanzania (51%).

In a joint press statement issued to mark the release of the report, Unicef and WHO said Aids had hampered progress in South Africa.

"In South Africa, progress in reducing childhood mortality has been hampered by HIV and Aids, and limited implementation of existing packages of care."

According to the report, the under-five mortality rate in the country was almost at the same level as it was in 1990, and in 2010 a total of 58,000 children died before their fifth birthday.

It said sub-Saharan Africa was still home to the highest rates of child mortality, with one in eight children dying before reaching five, a figure more than 17 times the average for developed regions (one in 143). - (AFP/SAPA, September 2011)

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