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WHO to revamp statistics to include sudden infant death syndrome

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 15 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:128
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    The World Health Organization is to review its statistical classification system by creating a specific category for recording sudden deaths among children and young adults.

    The move to clearly identify a phenomenon that has been estimated to claim up to eight lives a week in the United Kingdom comes after a campaign by Linda McAvan and Catherine Stihler, two British Labour members of the European parliament (BMJ 2003;327:886).

    They point out that since cot deaths were officially recognised as sudden infant death syndrome more than 10 years ago the number of deaths has fallen by 70%. They acknowledge that the decrease is due to the publicity given to ensuring that infants sleep in the appropriate position but maintain that the systematic use of a specific code to record such deaths will enable researchers to study the problem better, determine its true scale, and propose measures that could save lives.

    Replying to their request WHO noted that the inclusion of a condition in its international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems “can help to raise awareness and provide statistical data to enable trends to be monitored.”

    In a letter sent to the two MEPs this month Dr Timothy Evans, WHO's assistant director general, noted: “I agree with you that it is important to be able to count cases of sudden unexplained deaths in children and young adults for statistical purposes.”

    He confirmed that WHO officials and Dr Peter Goldblatt at the UK's Office for National Statistics will now review the current provisions of the classification so that sudden unexplained deaths in young people will in future be recorded in a specific category.

    Both the MEPs, who had lodged their request with WHO last October, immediately welcomed the decision.

    Ms McAvan, who represents Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “This marks a small but significant step forward. Identification of the scale of the problem of adult and child sudden death is the necessary first step towards providing effective measures to stop it from happening.”

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