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1. Key messages

In 2019, the infant mortality rate was 3.6 per thousand live births. In Belgium, infant mortality has sharply declined since 2000 but seems to be stagnating in the last years. The current rates and trends are similar in the three regions.

2. Background

The infant mortality rate reflects the mortality of children below 1 year. It includes both the consequences of perinatal events and the mortality occurring after the perinatal period, which is often preventable. The infant mortality rate is highly correlated to the country's level of development, the quality of medical care, and the availability of preventive services and health promotion interventions.

Higher infant mortality rates in boys compared to girls have for long been observed in nearly all countries in the world [1]. The explanation is complex, including important biological and genetic factors as well as environmental and behavioral factors resulting in a persistent mortality difference throughout infancy and even later [2,3].

Large fluctuations in yearly rates are observed at regional level, due to the small number of infant deaths. Meaningful comparisons of rates and trends by region are therefore best made using smoothed rates. In this overview, we use a moving average over 5 years period.

Deaths occurring in Belgium may occur in legal residents (registered in the National Register, with a Belgian or foreign nationality), asylum seekers (registered in the register of asylum seekers), or non-residents (travelers, illegal, etc.). Official statistics on infant mortality include legal residents and asylum seekers.

On this page, we first present all infant deaths in Belgium by residence status, and then focus on the deaths of infants whose mothers were legal residents.

3. Infant mortality rate

Belgium

All residents

In the year 2019, Belgian authorities registered a total of 464 infant deaths.

Among those, 423 deaths occurred in infants born from a resident mother, who is registered in the National Registry. Three additional deaths occurred in children born from mothers registered in the asylum seeker register (R5). For 38 deaths, the mother was non-resident or the infant death was only notified via a death certificate.

The same year, the total number of live births was equal to 120 130, 117 103 were registered in the national register, 592 were registered in the asylum seeker register and for 2435 births the mother was non-resident or the birth was only notified with a birth certificate.

  Number of deaths Number of live births Infant mortality rate
National register 423 117,103 3.61
National register and asylum seeker register 426 117,695 3.62
All residents

464

120,130 3.86
Legal residents

In 2019, the infant mortality rate was 3.6 per thousand live births. Infant mortality rates have decreased by 32% from 1998 (5.3‰) to 2019. 

The infant mortality rate in 2019 was 3.1 per thousand live births in girls and 4.1 per thousand live births in boys, corresponding to an absolute gap of 0.9‰ and a sex ratio of 1.3. The gender gaps in mortality rates fluctuate over time due to the small numbers of infant deaths.

After smoothing, the mortality differences between girls and boys persisted (respectively 3.0‰ and 3.9‰).

  • Crude
  • Smoothed

Crude infant mortality rate (‰) by sex, 1998-2019
Source: Statbel [4]

Smoothed infant mortality rate (‰) (5-year moving average) by sex, 2002-2019
Source: Own calculation based on Statbel [4]

Trends and regional disparities

The infant mortality rates in the three regions were similar in 2019: 3.6‰ in the Flemish Region and in the Walloon Region, and 3.5‰ in the Brussels Capital Region. After smoothing, the 2019 infant mortality rates were slightly higher in the Flemish Region (3.6‰) compared to the Walloon Region (3.4‰) and the Brussels Capital Region (3.3‰).

Over time, a strong decline has been observed in all regions. In the Brussels Capital Region, the rate used to be higher than in the other regions until 2009, at which time it declined more sharply. In the last seven years, the infant mortality rate among regions has been stagnating.

  • Crude
  • Smoothed

Crude infant mortality rate (‰) by region, 1998-2019
Source: Statbel [4]

Smoothed infant mortality rate (‰) (5-year moving average) by region, 2002-2019
Source: Own calculation based on Statbel [4]

International comparison

In 2019, the Belgian infant mortality was higher than the EU-14 average (3.1). Belgium had the 3rd highest infant mortality rate in 2019 among the EU-14, after Luxembourg and France, and ex aequo with Greece.

Infant mortality rate by country of birth, Europe, 2019
Source: OECD Health Data [5]

4. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

SPMA: Standardized Procedures for Mortality Analysis in Belgium

Definitions

EU-14
The EU-14 corresponds to all countries that belonged to the European Union between 1995 and 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. We compare the Belgian health status to that of the EU-14 because these countries have similar socioeconomic conditions. Note: The United Kingdom is not included since they have left the EU.
Infant mortality rate
The infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births in the same year.
Sex ratio
The sex ratio is the mortality rate of boys under the age of 1 divided by the mortality rate of girls under the age of 1. A sex ratio of 1.2 means that there are 1.2 times more infant deaths in boys than in girls.

References

  1. UN IGME. United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation; 2018. https://childmortality.org/data
  2. Drevenstedt GL, Crimmins EM, Vasunilashorn S, Finch CE. The rise and fall of excess male infant mortality, 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18362357/ 
  3. Sidebotham P, Fraser J, Covington T, Freemantle J, Petrou S, Pulikottil-Jacob R, et al. Understanding why children die in high-income countries, 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25209491/ 
  4. Statbel, 1998-2019. https://statbel.fgov.be/en/themes/population/mortality-life-expectancy-and-causes-death/feto-infant-mortality
  5. OECD Health Data, 2019. https://stats.oecd.org/