Pneumonia and diarrhoea prevention can save millions of lives – UN

A woman swaddles her crying newborn in a camp in southern Pakistan. Photo: UNICEF

8 June 2012 – Preventing and treating pneumonia and diarrhoea – the two leading causes of death among children under five – can help save the lives of more than two million children, according to a report released today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“We know what works against pneumonia and diarrhoea – the two illnesses that hit the poorest hardest,” UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, said in a news release. “Scaling up simple interventions could overcome two of the biggest obstacles to increasing child survival, help give every child a fair chance to grow and thrive.”

Pneumonia and diarrhoea account for almost one-third of deaths among children under five worldwide, and nearly 90 per cent of deaths from these diseases occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The report, Pneumonia and diarrhoea: Tackling the deadliest diseases for the world’s poorest children, highlights how preventing and treating these diseases can have a significant impact in improving the child survival rate in the 75 countries with the highest child mortality burden.

The report notes that there are cost-effective interventions that can be scaled up to reach the most disadvantaged children, as treatment and prevention for both diseases often overlap.

Measures to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea include basic steps such as increasing vaccine coverage, encouraging breastfeeding and hand-washing with soap, expanding drinking water and sanitation and disseminating oral rehydration salts to children with diarrhoea and antibiotics to children with pneumonia.

However, the report states that these simple and highly effective measures are not currently being implemented in developing countries. In the case of breastfeeding, fewer than 40 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed in developing countries, depriving them of critical protection against these diseases.

The report also notes that innovations will make a difference in tackling the diseases. New vaccines, child-friendly zinc and amoxicillin tablets and flavoured oral rehydration salts are more readily accepted by children, and mobile technology is being used by health workers to reach remote communities in areas where children are at greater risk.

“Innovation has helped save millions of lives; it can and will save many more,” said Mr. Lake.


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