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Prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) due to an active health monitoring system 20 years prior to the public “Back to Sleep” campaigns
  1. M Vennemann1,
  2. D Fischer2,
  3. G Jorch3,
  4. T Bajanowski4
  1. 1Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Münster, Germany
  2. 2Walter-Rathenaustr. 19, 39245 Gommern, Germany
  3. 3Children’s Hospital, University of Magdeburg, Germany
  4. 4Institute for Legal Medicine, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to:
    M Vennemann
    Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Münster, Germany; vennemam{at}


Background: Before reunification, the post-neonatal mortality rate was lower in East Germany than in West Germany. Moreover, the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) was much lower in the East.

Methods: Mortality data on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) from West and East Germany since 1980 as well as post-neonatal mortality data for both states since 1970 were examined. 95% Confidence intervals were calculated for the rates. Witnesses from the former East Germany who were involved at the time were also interviewed and archives were searched.

Results: We found that as early as 1972 active monitoring of infant and child mortality rates in East Germany had shown that the prone sleeping position was dangerous for infants: the post-neonatal mortality rate was approximately 1 per 1000 live births lower in East than in West Germany during the 20 years before reunification. In contrast, in the West, prone sleeping was only discovered to be a risk factor for SIDS in the early 1990s.

Conclusions: Active monitoring is an effective tool in the early detection of risk factors and serves to prevent unnecessary deaths.

  • active monitoring
  • Germany
  • prevention
  • SIDS
  • sudden infant death syndrome

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  • Published Online First 6 January 2006

  • Competing interests: none declared

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