Mortality and morbidity patterns in under-five children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Zambia: a five-year retrospective review of hospital-based records (2009-2013)

Arch Public Health. 2015 May 1;73(1):23. doi: 10.1186/s13690-015-0072-1. eCollection 2015.


Background: Severe acute malnutrition has continued to be growing problem in Sub Saharan Africa. We investigated the factors associated with morbidity and mortality of under-five children admitted and managed in hospital for severe acute malnutrition.

Methods: It was a retrospective quantitative review of hospital based records using patient files, ward death and discharge registers. It was conducted focussing on demographic, clinical and mortality data which was extracted on all children aged 0-60 months admitted to the University Teaching Hospital in Zambia from 2009 to 2013. Cox proportional Hazards regression was used to identify predictors of mortality and Kaplan Meier curves where used to predict the length of stay on the ward.

Results: Overall (n = 9540) under-five children with severe acute malnutrition were admitted during the period under review, comprising 5148 (54%) males and 4386 (46%) females. Kwashiorkor was the most common type of severe acute malnutrition (62%) while diarrhoea and pneumonia were the most common co-morbidities. Overall mortality was at 46% with children with marasmus having the lowest survival rates on Kaplan Meier graphs. HIV infected children were 80% more likely to die compared to HIV uninfected children (HR = 1.8; 95%CI: 1.6-1.2). However, over time (2009-2013), admissions and mortality rates declined significantly (mortality 51% vs. 35%, P < 0.0001).

Conclusions: We find evidence of declining mortality among the core morbid nutritional conditions, namely kwashiorkor, marasmus and marasmic-kwashiorkor among under-five children admitted at this hospital. The reasons for this are unclear or could be beyond the scope of this study. This decline in numbers could be either be associated with declining admissions or due to the interventions that have been implemented at community level to combat malnutrition such as provision of "Ready to Use therapeutic food" and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV at health centre level. Strategies that enhance and expand growth monitoring interventions at community level to detect malnutrition early to reduce incidence of severe cases and mortality need to be strengthened.

Keywords: Comorbidity; HIV; Hospital; Mortality; Severe acute malnutrition; Under-five children; Zambia.