World / Kaleidoscope

Diarrhoea and pneumonia top killers of kids

By D J Clark ( Updated: 2012-06-13 14:40

Pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two leading causes of infant mortality, together accounting for nearly one third of all deaths among under fives around the world. This amounts to more than two million lives lost each year. Both diseases are easily prevented and cured, a new United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report claims.

"Deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia are concentrated in the world's poorest regions and countries and occur amongst the most poorest children within these societies," Tessa Wardlaw, Associate Director of Monitoring and Statistics at UNICEF commented quoting from the data driven report.

If the 75countries with highest under five mortality gave the poorest infants the same protection and access to medicines as the richest children in their countries, an estimated two million lives could be saved over the next three years, the report claims.

 "So scaling up key interventions would not only reduce the child survival gap between poorest and richest children but would also accelerate the progress towards eliminating preventable child deaths" Wardlaw summed up.

In a telephone interview to Addis Ababa, Director of UNICEF's health program in Ethiopia, Lu Wei, A Chinese doctor from Beijing, explained how concentrating on these two diseases was the easiest way to reduce child deaths.

"Ethiopia's biggest chance to be successful is to scale up community based care at the health post level. In Ethiopia there are 34,000 rural health extension workers working throughout some 15,000 health posts." Ethiopia is in the top five countries listed in the report along with India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan that make up more than 50 percent of global child deaths by diarrhoea and pneumonia. "Supporting the government to train the health extension workers to treat pneumonia and diarrhoea will certainly bring down the mortality from these two diseases," Lu Wei added.

Optimal breast feeding, adequate nutrition, vaccination, hand washing with soap, providing safe access to drinking water and basic sanitation to prevent both diseases are key to preventing the diseases but often missing from the poorest communities. Treating diarrhoea with oral rehydration salts and zinc and pneumonia with antibiotics are simple and effective ways to deal with the diseases but again not always accessible by the world's most needy children.

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