Updated 17 April 2015

South Africa's dying babies

Over 60 000 babies have either been born dead or died in the first week of being alive in the period 2011 to 2013, according to Statistician General Pali Lehohla.


South Africa has recorded over 60 000 perinatal deaths in over the three-year period of 2011 to 2013, Statistician General Pali Lehohla revealed on Thursday.

Perinatal deaths are a combination of foetuses that are born dead, known as stillbirths, and babies that die in the first week after birth.

Lehohla released the first perinatal report in South Africa at Parliament in Cape Town. "For health professionals this is an important indicator of the conditions of health in a country".

What the figures show

He said the number of perinatal deaths that occurred in 2013 was 22 116, in 2012 it was 23 167 and in 2011 it was 22 290.

"From the number of registered perinatal deaths in South Africa in 2013, 66% is from stillbirths and 34% is early neonatal births."

Other factors that he mentioned from the report are:

- KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng consistently were the two provinces with the highest proportion of perinatal deaths in each of the three years.
- The distribution of early neonatal deaths for each of the three years showed that more than 50% of neonatal deaths occurred between 24 hours and 167 hours (1-7 days) after birth.
- The majority of perinatal deaths (over 65%) took place in hospital.
- There were more male than female perinatal deaths.
- The leading cause of stillbirths was attributed to foetus and newborn affected by maternal factors; while
- The leading cause of babies that died in the first week after birth was respiratory and cardiovascular disorders

Better planning going forward

Lehohla said the report shows an improvement in the quality of data that is now available to South Africa to better plan for health care.

"We want to move to a quarterly release, for both of causes of death [infant mortality and perinatal mortality] so that we can inform policy much better and much faster."

Read: When a baby is unusually quiet

Health24's resident doctor, Dr Owen Wiese welcomed the release of the report.

"Perinatal death statistics are important because it gives us an indication on the quality of care mothers receive while pregnant and the babies within the first seven days of life.

"This is especially important to help our healthcare system to better and improve the care of pregnant mothers by means of education," he said.

Dr Wiese said Statistics South Africa also made a very important remark on how to reduce perinatal deaths through proper care during and after pregnancy.

He said care for the pregnant mother is vital, adding that the moment a woman finds out she is pregnant, she should be entered into an antenatal care programme.

Read: Dealing with your new baby

"This will allow the health system to follow up on her regularly, check for any danger signs and advise her on personal health and care while pregnant and how to care for the baby once delivered.  

"Early detection of any abnormalities with the pregnancy or the foetus can be picked up and appropriately referred to specialists if necessary – avoiding complications for the mother and the baby close to or during delivery and thereafter," he said.

Dr Wiese also pointed out that after the birth of baby, it is vital to ensure the baby is adequately nourished.

Read: Your complete guide to breastfeeding

"A newborn baby cannot effectively control body temperature and mothers should know how to ensure the baby is kept warm and comfortable. Educating the mother on hygienic practices is also important to ensure that babies don’t suffer from preventable conditions like diarrhoea and infections of any kind."

He said educating the mother on danger signs in the young child will also ensure the mother seeks the necessary help in time to prevent early deaths as in the case of dehydration and respiratory tract infections which are leading causes of death in the young newborn child.

Also read:

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7 week old baby smiles as he hears for the first time

Image: Foetus in womb from Shutterstock


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