The World Health Organization and U.N. Children’s Fund are unveiling a new strategy to end preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea by 2025. The agencies say this new plan of action potentially could save the lives of up to two million young children each year.
Pneumonia and diarrhea are two leading killers of children. Together, they account for nearly one-third of all the deaths of children under 5 years old in developing countries. Nearly 90 percent of the two million annual child deaths from these two diseases occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Health agencies say children are dying from these preventable diseases because effective interventions are not reaching them or are not being provided equitably across all communities.
Elizabeth Mason, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, says pneumonia and diarrhea are currently treated separately. She says evidence from countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Tanzania show it makes good health and economic sense to tackle these diseases together.
She says many factors contribute to pneumonia or diarrhea, so no single intervention can effectively prevent, treat or control these two conditions. She says the new approach involves putting the known interventions into one comprehensive, integrated package.
“Current interventions, such as exclusive breast-feeding, good under-5 good nutrition for children, hand washing, safe drinking water, improved cook stoves, environmental pollution, zinc, oral rehydration solution, antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, vitamin A, and vaccination need correct and consistent and sustained use,” said Ms. Mason.
Vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhea are not affordable in many developing countries. The GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership, provides funding that increases access to immunization in developing countries.
To date, GAVI has helped 24 poor countries immunize 13 million children with pneumococcal vaccines to prevent pneumonia and 13 countries with rotavirus vaccines to immunize five million children against diarrhea.
GAVI welcomed the integrated global action plan and says it hopes to accelerate affordable access to these life-saving vaccines by developing countries.
Ms. Mason said she believes the targets set by the new integrated approach for ending preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea by 2025 are achievable.