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Open Access Research article

Young and vulnerable: Spatial-temporal trends and risk factors for infant mortality in rural South Africa (Agincourt), 1992-2007

Benn KD Sartorius1*, Kathleen Kahn123, Penelope Vounatsou4, Mark A Collinson123 and Stephen M Tollman123

Author Affiliations

1 MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

2 Centre for Global Health Research, Epidemiology and Global Health, University of Umeå, Umeå, Sweden

3 INDEPTH Network, Accra, Ghana

4 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:645  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-645

Published: 26 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Infant mortality is an important indicator of population health in a country. It is associated with several health determinants, such as maternal health, access to high-quality health care, socioeconomic conditions, and public health policy and practices.

Methods

A spatial-temporal analysis was performed to assess changes in infant mortality patterns between 1992-2007 and to identify factors associated with infant mortality risk in the Agincourt sub-district, rural northeast South Africa. Period, sex, refugee status, maternal and fertility-related factors, household mortality experience, distance to nearest primary health care facility, and socio-economic status were examined as possible risk factors. All-cause and cause-specific mortality maps were developed to identify high risk areas within the study site. The analysis was carried out by fitting Bayesian hierarchical geostatistical negative binomial autoregressive models using Markov chain Monte Carlo simulation. Simulation-based Bayesian kriging was used to produce maps of all-cause and cause-specific mortality risk.

Results

Infant mortality increased significantly over the study period, largely due to the impact of the HIV epidemic. There was a high burden of neonatal mortality (especially perinatal) with several hot spots observed in close proximity to health facilities. Significant risk factors for all-cause infant mortality were mother's death in first year (most commonly due to HIV), death of previous sibling and increasing number of household deaths. Being born to a Mozambican mother posed a significant risk for infectious and parasitic deaths, particularly acute diarrhoea and malnutrition.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates the use of Bayesian geostatistical models in assessing risk factors and producing smooth maps of infant mortality risk in a health and socio-demographic surveillance system. Results showed marked geographical differences in mortality risk across a relatively small area. Prevention of vertical transmission of HIV and survival of mothers during the infants' first year in high prevalence villages needs to be urgently addressed, including expanded antenatal testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and improved access to antiretroviral therapy. There is also need to assess and improve the capacity of district hospitals for emergency obstetric and newborn care. Persisting risk factors, including inadequate provision of clean water and sanitation, are yet to be fully addressed.