Part Two: Forgotten Killers

| April 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

As a follow-up to my previous article, “Forgotten Killers: Pneumonia and Diarrhea Prevalence in Third-World Countries,” I went to the individuals at UNICEF who are on the front lines in the battle to combat pneumonia and diarrhea.  I was put in contact with Dr. Renee Van de Weerdt, the Chief of the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Unit at the Health Section in UNICEF’s New York headquarters.  Dr. Van de Weerdt was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions pertaining to these epidemics, the advances that have been made thus far, and the future of preventative care.

My first question for Dr. Van de Weerdt concerned the changes that UNICEF has seen in the efforts to combat pneumonia and diarrhea in the past year.  Given this current trajectory, I asked Dr. Van de Weerdt if she believed that 2 million deaths would actually be prevented by 2015, a statistic referenced in “Pneumonia and Diarrhea – Tackling the Deadliest Diseases for the World’s Poorest Children.”  She responded optimistically: UNICEF has “seen significant declines in under-5 mortality rates,” as well as in the number of deaths due to pneumonia and diarrhea.  Dr. Van de Weerdt believes that 2 million deaths can indeed be prevented, but only if “all of the recommended interventions are rapidly taken to scale.”  One of the countries that is making enormous progress is Sub-Saharan Africa, where UNICEF has seen that the uptake of certain interventions, like insecticide-treated bed nets, can be very rapid.

Given the deadly nature of the pneumonia and diarrhea epidemics, I was curious as to why pneumonia and diarrhea prevention seems to have taken a back seat to HIV-AIDS and malaria prevention, even though the same number of children die from pneumonia and diarrhea as from malaria, injuries, AIDS, meningitis, measles, and all other postneonatal conditions combined.  Dr. Van de Weerdt believes that there is greater global and national attention to both diarrhea and pneumonia control, thanks to “renewed global attention through the publications of reports.”  She also notes that because there are new tools to combat the epidemics, such as vaccines and dispersible tablets of amoxicillin, increases the “attention as well as the urgency to make sure all children have access to these new interventions.”

Finally, I asked Dr. Van de Weerdt what the single most important thing for an under-developed country to do in order to curb pneumonia and diarrhea deaths.  Her answer was simple: integration.  According to her, not one intervention can treat and prevent all deaths.  Dr. Van de Weerdt urged that thee areas, “promotion, prevention, and treatment,” need to come together.  Integrated case management is pivotal, and “needs to be brought closer to the communities in need.”  The United States and other leading countries can do their part and advocate for these integrated approaches, “not only because they save lives, but because we can get ‘more health for more money’ through integrated services.”

However, change must come from within.  National institutions, civil societies, and faith-based organizations need to “ring the alarm bell” and call upon national governments to bring the “needed change.”  Donor countries, like the United States, can assist through “igniting this national call to action” to bring about sustainable change.  But ultimately, it is the affected country must prioritize the health and well-being of their most vulnerable to ensure the future of their people.  Perhaps with the initiatives that are currently in place, this hope can become a reality.

Category: Infectious, Online

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