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In Kenya, infant mortality rate increased from 59 deaths per 1000 live births in 1988 to 78 deaths per 1000 live births by 2003. This was an increase of about 32 percent in 15years. The reasons behind this upturn are poorly understood. This paper investigates the probable factors behind the upsurge in infant mortality in Kenya during the 1988–2003 period. Understanding the causes behind the upsurge is critical in designing high impact public health strategies for the acceleration of national and international public health goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The reversals in early child mortality is also regarded as one of the most important topics in contemporary demography.
A merged dataset drawn from the Kenya Demographic and Health Surveys of 1993, 1998 and 2003 was used. The merged KDHS included a total of 5265 singletons. Permission to use the KDHS data was obtained from ICF international on the following website: http://www.measuredhs.com. Stata version 11.0 was used for data analysis. The paper used regression decomposition techniques as the main method for analysing the contribution of the selected covariates on the upsurge in infant mortality.
The duration of breastfeeding; maternal education, regional HIV prevalence and malaria endemicity were the factors that appeared to have contributed much to the observed rise in infant mortality in Kenya over the period. If all the live births that occurred in the 1996/03 period had the same mean values of all explanatory variables as those of live births that occurred in the 1988/95 period, then infant mortality would have increased by a massive 14 deaths per 1000 live births. However, if the live births that occurred in the 1988/95 period had the same mean values of all explanatory variables as those that occurred in the 1996/03 period, the upsurge in infant mortality would have been negligible. While the role of HIV in the upturn in infant mortality in Kenya and other sub Saharan African countries is indisputable, this study demonstrates that it is the duration of breastfeeding and Malaria endemicity that played a more significant role in Kenya’s upsurge in infant mortality during the 1988–2003 period.
Efforts aimed at controlling and preventing malaria and HIV should be stepped up to avert an upsurge in infant mortality. There is need to step up alternative baby feeding practices among mothers who are HIV positive especially after the first six months of breastfeeding. Owing to the widely known inverse relationship between maternal education and infant mortality, there is need for concerted efforts to promote girl child education. Owing to the important role played by the short preceding birth interval to the upsurge in infant mortality, there is need to promote family planning methods in Kenya.