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Bangladeshi Children Who Lose Mothers More Likely to Die, Lancet Study Finds

June 4, 2010

Children in Bangladesh whose mothers died "had about a 24 percent chance of making it to age 10," while children with mothers had an 89 percent chance of surviving, according to a Lancet study published on Friday, the Associated Press reports.

"Researchers in Bangladesh, Britain and the U.S. used data from population surveys from 1982 to 2005 in Matlab, Bangladesh, to follow what happened to more than 144,800 children. Of those, nearly 15,000 died by age 10," the AP writes. "The effect was particularly dramatic in infants; those aged 2 to 5 months who lost their mothers were 25 times more likely to die than babies whose mothers were still alive," the news service reports. Death of a father had no effect on a child's survival up to age 10, according to the study.

Lead study author Carine Ronsmans, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said mothers in rural Bangladesh typically breastfeed children for at least one year and that the removal of that "biological link, in an areas where formula is not popular, has a particularly big impact on children." Ronsmans also noted she was surprised by the findings that a father's death had no impact on child survival and "suggested that when fathers die, mothers may get help from their extended family or remarry, offsetting the loss."

Prior studies in Nepal and Gambia have had similar findings, and "experts fear there could be a big problem in Africa, where many children have lost a parent to the AIDS epidemic. Ronsmans said that without prioritizing women's health, more children were at risk. 'It's a double loss ... First you lose the mother, then you lose the child'" (Cheng, 6/3).

The study is part of a themed issue of the journal focusing on maternal, child and newborn health. In an opinion piece, Lancet editor Richard Horton highlights ten reasons why "women's and children's health are invisible" and cites findings in this week's journal.

Among other recommendations Horton outlines in the piece, he calls for more attention to local perspectives. "To devise a plan to make women's and children's health more visible, we must listen harder to voices from those countries where most maternal and child deaths take place. Too often, we ignore these voices. If we listened, we would hear pleas to help strengthen primary health-care systems, especially in rural areas. We would hear a call for greater attention to newborns. We would hear about the importance of education and social protection. We would hear about the need for higher quality medicines and supplies. We would hear more about the political status of women. We would hear about the need for safer abortion services," according to Horton (6/5).

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