Mortality and its risk factors in Malawian children admitted to hospital with clinical pneumonia, 2001-12: A retrospective observational study

Marzia Lazzerini, Nadine Seward, Norman Lufesi, Rosina Banda, Sophie Sinyeka, Gibson Masache, Bejoy Nambiar, Charles Makwenda, Anthony Costello, Eric D McCollum, Tim Colbourn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: Few studies have reported long-term data on mortality rates for children admitted to hospital with pneumonia in Africa. We examined trends in case fatality rates for all-cause clinical pneumonia and its risk factors in Malawian children between 2001 and 2012.

METHODS: Individual patient data for children (<5 years) with clinical pneumonia who were admitted to hospitals participating in Malawi's Child Lung Health Programme between 2001 and 2012 were recorded prospectively on a standardised medical form. We analysed trends in pneumonia mortality and children's clinical characteristics, and we estimated the association of risk factors with case fatality for children younger than 2 months, 2-11 months of age, and 12-59 months of age using separate multivariable mixed effects logistic regression models.

FINDINGS: Between November, 2012, and May, 2013, we retrospectively collected all available hard copies of yellow forms from 40 of 41 participating hospitals. We examined 113 154 pneumonia cases, 104 932 (92·7%) of whom had mortality data and 6903 of whom died, and calculated an overall case fatality rate of 6·6% (95% CI 6·4-6·7). The case fatality rate significantly decreased between 2001 (15·2% [13·4-17·1]) and 2012 (4·5% [4·1-4·9]; ptrend<0·0001). Univariable analyses indicated that the decrease in case fatality rate was consistent across most subgroups. In multivariable analyses, the risk factors significantly associated with increased odds of mortality were female sex, young age, very severe pneumonia, clinically suspected Pneumocystis jirovecii infection, moderate or severe underweight, severe acute malnutrition, disease duration of more than 21 days, and referral from a health centre. Increasing year between 2001 and 2012 and increasing age (in months) were associated with reduced odds of mortality. Fast breathing was associated with reduced odds of mortality in children 2-11 months of age. However, case fatality rate in 2012 remained high for children with very severe pneumonia (11·8%), severe undernutrition (15·4%), severe acute malnutrition (34·8%), and symptom duration of more than 21 days (9·0%).

INTERPRETATION: Pneumonia mortality and its risk factors have steadily improved in the past decade in Malawi; however, mortality remains high in specific subgroups. Improvements in hospital care may have reduced case fatality rates though a lack of sufficient data on quality of care indicators and the potential of socioeconomic and other improvements outside the hospital precludes adequate assessment of why case-fatality rates fell. Results from this study emphasise the importance of effective national systems for data collection. Further work combining this with data on trends in the incidence of pneumonia in the community are needed to estimate trends in the overall risk of mortality from pneumonia in children in Malawi.

FUNDING: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e57-e68
Number of pages12
JournalThe Lancet. Global health
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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