Infant death rate in SA down to lowest level in nearly 20 years, IRR report finds

South Africa's infant mortality rate is at its lowest level in almost 20 years, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has announced.

According to an IRR report, infant mortality (measured as infant deaths per 1 000 live births) in SA fell by 32% between 2002 and 2017, as more mothers sought antenatal visits.

"The National Department of Health must intensify public awareness campaigns to educate and persuade more women to visit healthcare practitioners for regular check-ups before and after giving birth," IRR analyst Tawanda Makombo told News24.

In real terms, Makombo said that, in 2002, there were 48.1 deaths per 1 000 live births, declining to 32.8 in 2017.

Antenatal first visits since 2006 increased by 96%, which means that more mothers have had access to primary healthcare – a key government priority.

National Development Plan targets

According to the Department of Health, primary healthcare is seen as a vehicle to arrest infant mortality, especially to stop the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

"The department will use the primary healthcare (PHC) approach to provide early and quality ante- and post-natal services, as well as essential infant and child health services and nutritional advice. This will reduce the high maternal and child mortality rates in the country," the department said in a statement.

Department policy says that prevention of mother-to-child transmission for HIV will begin at 14 weeks of pregnancy.

"Most pregnant HIV-positive women receive medicines to avoid mother-to-child transmission and that has helped in tackling HIV-related infant mortality," said Makombo.

The National Development Plan (NDP) notes that South Africa's fertility rate declined from 6.7 in the 1960s to 2.3 in 2011. It projects a 2.1 fertility rate by 2030, resulting in an increase in the population of eight million.

The document notes that mortality in SA is characterised by HIV/Aids, TB, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, violence and injury.

The NDP has set a target of a 10% reduction in infant mortality, to 36 per 1 000 live births, by 2014, and less than 20 by 2030.

While the HIV prevalence rate is projected to increase to 7.3 million by 2030, Makombo said that infant mortality is likely to continue with its declining trend.

"With the way it has [fallen], we expect it to continue."

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