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Infant death rates continue to fall - MOH

THERE were significantly fewer infant deaths in 1998 according to provisional infant mortality statistics released by the Ministry of Health today.

Chief Advisor, Child and Youth Health, Dr Pat Tuohy said that the dramatic reduction in infant deaths was great news.

As well as a 18% reduction in overall infant deaths, sudden infant death syndrome deaths (SIDS) were also lower in 1998 than in 1997.

Dr Tuohy suggests that the overall reduction in infant mortality means that broadly based interventions are likely to be behind this latest improvement. However other factors such as the mild winter may have been a contributing factor.

"As well as the overall reduction in infant mortality, there has also been a sharp fall in numbers of babies recorded as dying from SIDS - in 1998, 60 New Zealand babies died from SIDS. This is down from 81 babies in 1997 and from 109 in 1996. Most of the reduction in SIDS over the last three years is due to lower rates among Maori and Pacific infants."

"As the SIDS reduction is almost exclusively among Maori and Pacific babies, so I would look to the Maori and Pacific communities and health providers for the explanations. Research and health promotion and education efforts continue to try and further reduce these deaths."

"Although these are provisional figures and may change as new cases are coded, this is encouraging news, as we now have three years data which shows a clear trend of fewer deaths". 1996 to 1998 data for Maori and Pacific people can't be compared with pre-1995 data because of changes in the way ethnicity has been categorised.

This ongoing improvement follows a gradual reduction in SIDS deaths after the dramatic drop in 1990 due to the New Zealand Cot death prevention campaign.

"There is considerable work done by many individuals and health providers in New Zealand to reduce infant deaths, and it is extremely heartening to see some good news. However we must not become complacent, significant health disparities still exist in New Zealand and we must continue to address them.

Better information is an important first step to ensuring our efforts are focussed in the right direction," Dr Tuohy said.


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