Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Helping northern Ethiopian communities reduce childhood mortality: population-based intervention trial

Mohammed Ali, Teklehaimanot Asefaw, Peter Byass, Hagos Beyene, & F. Karup Pedersen



More than 10 million children die each year mostly from preventable causes and particularly in developing countries. WHO guidelines for the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) are intended to reduce childhood mortality and are being implemented in Ethiopia. As well as specific clinical interventions, the role of the community in understanding and acting on childhood sickness is an important factor in improving survival. This trial sought to assess the effect on survival of community-based health promotion activities.


Two districts in northern Ethiopia were studied, each with a random sample of more than 4000 children less than 5 years old. Regular six-monthly visits were made to document deaths among children. After the first year, communities in one district were educated about issues of good childcare and caring for sick children while the other district received this information only after the trial ended.


Although overall mortality was higher in the post-intervention period, most of the increase was seen in the control area. A Cox proportional hazards model gave an adjusted hazard ratio of 0.66 (95% confidence interval = 0.46–0.95) for the intervention area compared with the control area in the post-intervention period, with no significant pre-intervention difference. Significant survival advantages were found for females, children of younger fathers, those with married parents, those living in larger households, and those whose nearest health facility was a health centre. For all of the children who died, only 44% of parents or caregivers had sought health care before the child’s death.


This non-specific community-based public health intervention, as an addition to IMCI strategies in local health facilities, appears to have significantly reduced childhood mortality in these communities. The possibility that such interventions may not effectively reach certain social groups (for example single parents) is an important consideration for implementation of similar strategies in future. The synergy between community awareness and the availability of effective peripheral health services is also an issue that needs further exploration.