Child mortality rate skyrockets

ABOUT 60000 children under the age of five die in South Africa every year. Many women also die from pregnancy or childbirth- related complications, often exacerbated by HIV.

The number of women and children who die in South Africa is incomprehensible given the resources the government has invested in healthcare compared with other countries with similar or weaker economies.

Predictably, the mortality patterns vary by provinces.

For child mortality Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State have by far the majority of deaths. Gauteng, Northern Cape and Western Cape contribute the least share of the 60000 children who die between the ages of one month and five years.

Deaths are "due to different reasons, but malnutrition and HIV-Aids are the key underlying causes", according to Neil Mc-Kerrow, chairperson of the ministerial review committee on child mortality.

"The children are dying of common, preventable diseases, and if we interrogate this a little bit further, the underlying factors giving rise to child mortality are two-fold in terms of patho-physiological processes ... About 60percent of children who die are malnourished and well over half of them are HIV-infected.

"There's a proportion of the remainder in whom we suspect, but we haven't confirmed, this fact and then on top of that we've got gastro-enteritis, acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis and sepsis," McKerrow said.

South Africa is one of a few countries in the world where child mortality continues to increase.

The committee found that complications related to hypertension are the most common cause of death in women under the age of 20, while women aged 35 and older are more likely to die from obstetric haemorrhage, the occurrence of ectopic pregnancies and pre-existing conditions that the women might have had.

It was found that among the causes that are unrelated to pregnancy, HIV was the major cause of death.

"The number of deaths from non-pregnancy related infections has increased, and most of these are due to Aids. We were asked a number of times: 'What would our maternal mortality ratio be if we, in fact, didn't have Aids?' If you did not have HIV then the ratio would be 31, and obviously, with the HIV, the ratio is 10 times higher."

Responding to the reports, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: "It's definitely not acceptable. South Africa has good health policies but the challenge lies with implementing them." - Health-e News