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World Health Stat Q. 1992;45(2-3):180-91.

The magnitude of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 years in developing countries.

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  • 1Harvard University, Center for Population and Development Studies, Cambridge, MA.


This article reviews the available evidence of mortality from acute respiratory infections (ARI) among children aged under 5 years in contemporary developing countries and compares the findings with European populations before 1965. In European populations before 1965, the level of mortality was found to be a determinant of the proportion of deaths due to ARI. There were marked differences according to regional patterns of mortality. Deaths from ARI played a smaller role after 1950, when the use of antibiotics became generalized. In developing countries, the role of ARI mortality seems to be similar to the European experience. The age pattern is very marked. In absolute values, ARI mortality is highest in the neonatal period and decreases with age. In relative values, ARI mortality is highest in the postneonatal period. ARI, mainly pneumonia, accounts for about 18% of underlying causes of death in developing countries. Pneumonia and other ARI are frequent complications of measles and pertussis; ARI is also commonly found after other infections and in association with severe malnutrition. Virtually no data are available in developing countries to provide final estimates of the role of ARI in mortality of children aged under 5 years. However, the WHO figure of 1 out of 3 deaths due to--or associated with--ARI may be close to the real range of the ARI-proportional mortality in children of developing countries. Results are discussed in light of the definitions of ARI used in various studies, the difficulties in ascertaining and coding multiple causes of death and the quality of data from some sources.

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