Pneumonia and diarrhoea kill about two million children a year,more than a quarter 28.5 per cent of all child deaths,Lancet has estimated. In India,diarrhoea accounts for 12 per cent of all child deaths and pneumonia for 23 per cent.
The findings are included in a new series on childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia that Lancet will publish Friday to coincide with the release of the Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) by WHO and UNICEF,in the first simultaneous effort to protect children from these diseases.
In 2011,diarrhoea killed 7 lakh children under five and pneumonia 13 lakh. Of the diarrhoea deaths,72 per cent were less than 2 years old and of pneumonia deaths,81 per cent.
Further,74 per cent of all children consumed by these diseases are from just 15 nations in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Though the mortality rate from the diseases is falling in most of these nations,it is rising by the year in Afghanistan,Burkina Faso,Democratic Republic of Congo,Cameroon,Chad and Mali. Diarrhoea and pneumonia have different symptoms and causes but share quite a few risk factors such as under-nutrition,sub-optimal breastfeeding and zinc deficiency,which means,Professor Robert Black of Johns Hopkins University,US,said,”that they can be effectively prevented and treated as part of a coordinated programme.”
Such a programme though would require quite some effort to put in place.”The magnitude of the effort needed to eliminate preventable deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia should not be underestimated,” the lead researcher of the Lancet study,Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta of Pakistan’s Aga Khan University,told The Indian Express.
However,Khan added,”This series and the accompanying GAPPD provide a very clear set of priorities and actions that,if implemented,offer an opportunity to eliminate preventable child deaths caused by these two diseases. I personally believe India can actually lead the way in our region and produce rapid change.”
This is where the role of mass vaccination campaigns is critical. Mass vaccination against rotavirus and cholera,the researchers estimate,could prevent nearly a third of the episodes of severe diarrhoea.
Indeed,if vaccination coverage is scaled up to 80 per cent,deaths from diarrhoea could be effectively eliminated and pneumonia deaths reduced by about 67 per cent by 2025. And all this at a cost of $6·7 billion,less than a quarter of the estimated cost of the 2012 London Olympics.
Funding is just one of the concerns. Most public health practitioners feel pneumonia and diarrhoea are low on the list of worldwide health priorities,far below HIV/AIDS or malaria,despite their enormous global impact.
Still,eliminating child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by 2035 is achievable,doctors Mickey Chopra of UNICEF and Elizabeth Mason of the WHO said,provided national governments prioritise the fight against these diseases. This would include increasing peoples access to clean water,sanitation,and hygiene.
Dr Naveen Thacker of the International Paediatric Association added,”We have come close to eradicating polio. Pneumonia and diarrhoea could be next if governments implement the integrated approach laid out in the GAPPD.”