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Bull World Health Organ. 2001;79(2):133-41.

Changing causes of death in the West African town of Banjul, 1942-97.

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  • 1Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratories, Fajara, PO Box 273, Banjul, The Gambia.



To determine trends in the causes of death in a West African town. Mortality caused by infectious diseases is reported to be declining while degenerative and man-made mortality factors are increasingly significant. Most mortality analyses for sub-Saharan Africa have involved extrapolation and have not been derived from community-based data.


Historical data on causes of death coded by physicians were analysed for the urban population of Banjul for the period 1942-97. As the calculation of rates is not possible in the absence of a reliable population denominator, age-standardized proportional mortality ratios (PMRs) for men and women by major groups of causes of death were calculated, using the 1942-49 data for reference purposes.


Most deaths were attributable to communicable diseases. There was a shift in proportional mortality over the study period: the contribution of communicable diseases declined and that of noncommunicable diseases and injuries increased. These trends were more marked among men than women.


The data illustrate that while noncommunicable diseases and injuries are emerging as important contributors to mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, communicable diseases remain significant causes of mortality and should not be neglected.

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