Professor Benn Sartorius, a distinguished faculty member at UKZN, has co-authored a groundbreaking study that examines mortality and health outcomes among children and adolescents worldwide. Spanning a period from 1990 to 2015, the study titled “Global Decline in Deaths Among Children, Adolescents but Progress Uneven” provides valuable insights to inform policy discussions.
Led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation as part of the Global Burden of Disease 2015 project, the research reveals a significant global reduction in deaths among children and adolescents, declining from 14.2 million in 1990 to 7.2 million in 2015. These positive trends can be attributed to advancements in combating infectious diseases, neonatal issues, and malnutrition.
However, the study highlights the uneven progress across regions and countries. Nations with lower socio-demographic index (SDI) values experienced a disproportionately higher number of deaths in 2015 compared to previous years. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, recorded the highest number of deaths in that year.
Lower respiratory tract infections, congenital anomalies, birth complications, neonatal sepsis, HIV/AIDS, meningitis, and malaria were identified as the leading causes of death. Additionally, many regions are grappling with the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases alongside the ongoing epidemiological transition.
The research also notes a rise in the burden of disability among adolescents and children, reaching 4.3% between 1990 and 2015. Factors contributing to this acceleration include population growth and improved survival rates. Furthermore, various disabilities can be attributed to long-term consequences of conditions present at birth, such as congenital birth defects, hemoglobinopathies, and neonatal disorders.
Professor Sartorius emphasized the importance of reproductive and maternal health in driving the disease burden among female adolescents, particularly in lower-SDI countries. Mortality remains a significant concern for this segment in such regions, whereas disability assumes greater prominence in higher SDI locations.
The study underscores the need for comprehensive strategies tailored to each country’s unique circumstances. Persistent infectious diseases, coupled with the growing burden of injuries and non-communicable diseases, necessitate careful evaluation and implementation of appropriate measures to safeguard the health of children and adolescents. Through active collaboration, UKZN is committed to advancing this vital mandate and fostering positive change on a global scale.