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S Afr Med J. 1991 Jul 20;80(2):79-82.

Acute respiratory infections as an important cause of childhood deaths in South Africa.

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  • 1Research Institute for Environmental Diseases, South African Medical Research Council, Parowvallei, CP.


Compared with other major preventable childhood diseases, such as diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections (ARI) have received comparatively little attention as an important cause of death in children. In this study of mortality from ARI in South Africa, national data was examined for the period 1968-1985, and data for Greater Cape Town for 1987. Almost 90% of ARI deaths were attributable to pneumonia and large inter-group differences were found that favoured whites and Asians over blacks and coloureds. For example, during 1980-1985 the mortality rate for pneumonia in coloured infants under 1 year of age was 11 times that observed in whites (88 v. 981/100,000). Pneumonia accounted for 14.5% of coloured and 12.7% of black deaths under 1 year of age during this period, compared with 6.7% of white and Asian deaths. The mortality rates from pneumonia declined substantially (50%) over the 18-year period in whites, coloureds and Asians. Sequential data for blacks is not available. There was a marked seasonality of deaths among coloured and Asian infants, with rates peaking in winter months. In Cape Town, pneumonia is now a more important cause of death among white and coloured children than diarrhoea, while it ranks with diarrhoea as a cause of death in black children. In all population groups, death rates from ARI are from 7 times to 270 times greater than those recorded in Western European countries. Studies are urgently required to discover why South African children suffer such a high mortality from ARI and how these deaths can be prevented.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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