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UNICEF saddened by the high numbers of child deaths in South Africa

Calls for accelerated action to improve maternal and child survival

Pretoria 19 June, 2007…  UNICEF today expressed sadness and dismay that young children are amongst the highest numbers of reported deaths, particularly in the 0-4 age group where they are dying more than any other group in the new democratic South Africa.

Reacting to the latest mortality figures published in a new report by Statistics South Africa: Mortality and causes of deaths in South Africa, 2005: Findings from death notification, the United Nation’s children’s agency called for immediate and decisive action to reverse the disturbing upward trend.  

UNICEF Country Representative Macharia Kamau implored “the Government, the private sector and indeed all South Africans, to act with urgency and determination, to do all within their personal and collective power to stop the unnecessary dying of children and to help make today's free and democratic South Africa a better place for children to be born and to survive.”

According to the report, the country’s children are now dying at historically unprecedented rates. Child deaths 0-4 years in 2005 stood at 61,461 and represented 10.4% of all deaths − the highest proportion across all age groups. Most of the leading causes of infant and child deaths were preventable and treatable diseases such as AIDS and respiratory infections

 Under-five mortality rates have steadily increased since 1997, and the rate of increase over this period was 1.89 indicating that, in 2005, young children who died were almost double the number of those who died in 1997. These figures place South Africa amongst only fourteen countries in the world that have experienced an increase in under-5 mortality since the mid nineties.  

The second most affected group says the report, is 30-34 year-olds, with women who are themselves predominantly mothers and care givers being disproportionately affected.  This is one of the groups with the highest HIV prevalence in South Africa. High HIV infections in women of child bearing age partly explain the high maternal and child mortality rates due to AIDS.  Increased deaths among this age group have potentially resulted in an increasing number of orphans: maternal, paternal or both, UNICEF observes.  “It is sad to note that the 30 - 34 age group, which includes the mothers of young children, is also dying at historically high rates,” UNICEF said. 
Another area of concern is adolescents 15-19 years of age who are the most affected by non-natural causes of death.  Despite the fact that the proportion of such deaths has decreased over the reporting period among that group, it was still very high, constituting 42.5 percent in 2005.  Making the highest contribution to causes of deaths among this group were avoidable causes such as transport incidents and assault. 

UNCEF appealed to South Africans to put children first and to do more to ensure better care and attention to children at home and in the care of institutions, including hospitals.   The on-going efforts to control the HIV epidemic and to improve maternal and child survival need to be urgently accelerated.  UNICEF also stressed the need to provide safe and protected environments for children and young people to avoid all forms violence, abuse and accidents in the country’s rapidly changing environment.





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