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Impact of high-risk fertility behaviours on underfive mortality in Asia and Africa: evidence from Demographic and Health Surveys
Authors: Rafi Amir-ud-Din, Lubna Naz, Aneela Rubi, Muhammad Usman, and Umesh Ghimire
Source: BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth , 21; DOI:
Topic(s): Birth interval
Childhood mortality
Children under five
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
  Multiple Asian Countries
More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: MAY 2021
Abstract: Maternal age < 18 or > 34 years, short inter-pregnancy birth interval, and higher birth order are considered to be high-risk fertility behaviours (HRFB). Underfive mortality being disproportionately concentrated in Asia and Africa, this study analyses the association between HRFB and underfive mortality in selected Asian and African countries. This study used Integrated Public Microdata Series-Demographic and Health Surveys (IPUMS-DHS) data from 32 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, North Africa and South Asia from 1986 to 2017 (N = 1,467,728). Previous evidence hints at four markers of HRFB: women’s age at birth of index child < 18 or > 34 years, preceding birth interval < 24 months and child’s birth order > 3. Using logistic regression, we analysed change in the odds of underfive mortality as a result of i) exposure to HRFB individually, ii) exposure to any single HRFB risk factor, iii) exposure to multiple HRFB risk factors, and iv) exposure to specific combinations of HRFB risk factors. Mother’s age at birth of index child < 18 years and preceding birth interval (PBI) < 24 months were significant risk factors of underfive mortality, while a child’s birth order > 3 was a protective factor. Presence of any single HRFB was associated with 7% higher risk of underfive mortality (OR 1.07; 95% CI 1.04–1.09). Presence of multiple HRFBs was associated with 39% higher risk of underfive mortality (OR 1.39; 95% CI 1.36–1.43). Some specific combinations of HRFB such as maternal age < 18 years and preceding birth interval < 24 month significantly increased the odds of underfive mortality (OR 2.07; 95% CI 1.88–2.28). Maternal age < 18 years and short preceding birth interval significantly increase the risk of underfive mortality. This highlights the need for an effective legislation to curb child marriages and increased public investment in reproductive healthcare with a focus on higher contraceptive use for optimal birth spacing.