'Premature birth causes must be studied to cut child mortality'


Research must focus on the causes of premature births and access to healthcare if the UK is to slash its child mortality rates, a study has suggested.

The care of children with treatable infections should also be reviewed to understand ways in which to reduce death rates in under-fives in the UK, which is higher than in other comparable European countries - including double that of Sweden.

Research, published today in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, compared data gathered from the UK and Sweden, which has one of the lowest child death rates in Europe, despite a similar health system.

It found the primary causes of death in the UK were problems associated with premature birth, inborn (congenital) abnormalities and infections, while both newborns and young children were significantly more likely to die of treatable infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and systemic blood poisoning.

The three main causes of death for the under-fives in Sweden were inborn abnormalities, complications of pregnancy and labour, and infections.

Researchers, including emeritus Professor Imti Choonara, from the academic unit of child health at the University of Nottingham, called for a stronger focus on prevention to improve the UK's position on the European child mortality league table.

The report said: "The majority of research funding within the UK is focused on clinical trials of new technologies and in particular different medicines.

"Our findings suggest that it would be more appropriate to fund research into service delivery to examine reasons why children do not receive existing treatment in a timely manner, rather than evaluating new medicines.

"The former is more likely to result in a significant reduction in mortality than the latter. 

"There are major differences in child mortality between the two countries. Action is needed to reduce the socioeconomic inequalities in the UK.

"Additionally, one needs to learn from practices in Sweden with regards to the delivery of healthcare to families with young children."

Researchers used under-five mortality data from 2006 to 2008 obtained from the Office of National Statistics for both countries.

The total number of live births was 2, 295,964 in the UK and 315,884 in Sweden.

The death rate among this age group was significantly higher in the UK - almost double - amounting to 614 per 100,000 of the pre-schooler population, compared with 328 per 100,000 in Sweden.