Background: A recent national survey in Tanzania reported that mortality in children younger than 5 years dropped by 24% over the 5 years between 2000 and 2004. We aimed to investigate yearly changes to identify what might have contributed to this reduction and to investigate the prospects for meeting the Millennium Development Goal for child survival (MDG 4).
Methods: We analysed data from the four demographic and health surveys done in Tanzania since 1990 to generate estimates of mortality in children younger than 5 years for every 1-year period before each survey back to 1990. We estimated trends in mortality between 1990 and 2004 by fitting Lowess regression, and forecasted trends in mortality in 2005 to 2015. We aimed to investigate contextual factors, whether part of Tanzania's health system or not, that could have affected child mortality.
Findings: Disaggregated estimates of mortality showed a sharp acceleration in the reduction in mortality in children younger than 5 years in Tanzania between 2000 and 2004. In 1990, the point estimate of mortality was 141.5 (95% CI 141.5-141.5) deaths per 1000 livebirths. This was reduced by 40%, to reach a point estimate of 83.2 (95% CI 70.1-96.3) deaths per 1000 livebirths in 2004. The change in absolute risk was 58.4 (95% CI 32.7-83.8; p<0.0001). Between 1999 and 2004 we noted important improvements in Tanzania's health system, including doubled public expenditure on health; decentralisation and sector-wide basket funding; and increased coverage of key child-survival interventions, such as integrated management of childhood illness, insecticide-treated nets, vitamin A supplementation, immunisation, and exclusive breastfeeding. Other determinants of child survival that are not related to the health system did not change between 1999 and 2004, except for a slow increase in the HIV/AIDS burden.
Interpretation: Tanzania could attain MDG 4 if this trend of improved child survival were to be sustained. Investment in health systems and scaling up interventions can produce rapid gains in child survival.