• childhood mortality;
  • The Gambia;
  • post-mortem questionnaires, malaria, ARI

A surveillance system was used to detect births and deaths in children in a large, rural, West African population from 1989 to 1993. Cause of death was investigated using post-mortem questionnaires. Overall infant (age 0–11 months) and child (age 1–4 years) mortality rates of 80.1 and 18.8 per 1000 per year were recorded. These were reasonably consistent over the period of surveillance. The most frequent cause of death in infants was acute respiratory infection (ARI), whereas in children it was malaria: these two conditions accounted for 41% of the deaths in children under 5 years old. Other leading causes of death were acute gastroenteritis, malnutrition, and septicaemia. Deaths attributed to ARI decreased over the 5-year period, but mortality rates from other causes were either unchanged or increased slightly. Mortality from all causes peaked in the rainy season and was slightly higher in villages which were part of a primary health care programme than in those which were not. There were also no differences between male and female mortality rates beyond one year of age. Despite the introduction of a number of health interventions, there has been no major change in the overall pattern of mortality in children in a rural area of The Gambia. Malaria and ARI remain the main causes of death.