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Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2000 Oct;14(4):363-71.

Epidemiology and predictors of infant morbidity in rural Malawi.

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  • 1Medical School, University of Tampere, Finland.


In rural Malawi, 703 newborns were visited monthly for 1 year to describe the epidemiology and health-seeking behaviour during acute episodes of diarrhoea, respiratory infections (ARI) and malaria. On average, the infants suffered from 1.3 annual episodes (11.0 illness days) of diarrhoea, 1.1 episodes (9.4 days) of ARI and 0.7 episodes (4.8 days) of malaria. Multivariate analysis with polychotomous logistic regression indicated that the amount of morbidity was associated with the child's area of residence, weight in early life, number of siblings, father's marital status and the source of drinking water. Diarrhoea and malaria were most common at 6-12 months of age and during the rainy months whereas respiratory infections peaked at 1-3 months of age and in the cold season. Ten per cent of diarrhoea, 9% of ARI and 7% of malaria episodes lasted for more than 14 days. Fifty-eight infants died, giving case fatality rates of 1% for diarrhoea, 2% for ARI and 4% for malaria. One-third (37%) of the illness episodes were managed at home without external advice. A traditional healer was consulted in 16% of episodes and a medical professional in 55% of episodes. If consulted, traditional healers were seen earlier than medical professionals (median duration after the onset of symptoms 0.7 vs. 1.8 days, P < 0.001). Traditional healers were significantly more commonly used by those families whose infants died than by those whose infants did not die (odds ratio 1.8, 95% CI 1.1, 3.0). Our results emphasise the influence of seasonality, care and living conditions on the morbidity of infants in rural Malawi. Case fatality for diarrhoea, ARI and malaria was high and associated with health-seeking behaviour among the guardians. Future interventions must aim at early and appropriate management of common childhood illnesses during infancy.

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