Forgotten Killers: Pneumonia and Diarrhea Prevalence in Third-World Countries

| April 13, 2013 | 0 Comments

Pneumonia and diarrhea may not necessarily come to mind when thinking about the leading killers of children in the world.  Malaria and AIDS epidemics have occupied much of the media attention concerning deadly childhood diseases.  Shockingly, however, the same number of children die from pneumonia and diarrhea as from malaria, AIDS, measles, injuries, and all other post-neonatal conditions . . . combined.

Pneumonia and diarrhea account for 29 percent of the deaths among children under the age of 5.  While many third-world countries are affected by these epidemics, poorer nations like India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, and Ethiopia are hit especially hard.  In these countries, children are often exposed to pathogens because of poor sanitation and water supplies.  Moreover, these children are more likely to develop severe illnesses due to the lack of medical care and inadequate nutrition.  In Ethiopia, 271,000 children under the age of 5 died in 2010, and pneumonia and diarrhea were the cause of at least a third of these deaths.  Compare this with Germany, where there were only 3,000 deaths that were mostly caused by non-communicable diseases.

Children suffering from Pneumonia in Manhica, Mozambique; Source: World Pneumonia Day

Children suffering from pneumonia in Manhica, Mozambique; Source: World Pneumonia Day

Nevertheless, intervention programs remain low, particularly in the most vulnerable of countries.  The members of UNICEF want to change this.  In the report entitled “Pneumonia and Diarrhea – Tackling the Deadliest Diseases for the World’s Poorest Children,” UNICEF outlines what can be done to easily and effectively treat pneumonia and diarrhea.  The report sites vaccinations against major causes of pneumonia and diarrhea as the key treatment in the fight to eradicate these epidemics.  Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine, for example, has already been introduced in low-income countries, which exemplifies “the possibility of overcoming gross inequalities if there is a focused equity approach with funding, global and national leadership, and demand creation.”  In addition, the report advocates for adequate nutrition, optimal breastfeeding practices, and hand washing with soap.  Once a child gets sick with pneumonia or diarrhea, cost-effective and life-saving treatments like antibiotics for pneumonia and oral rehydration salts for diarrhea can prevent death.

If these treatment and prevention techniques are put in place, it is estimated that 2 million children’s lives could be saved by 2015.  Specifically, child deaths due to pneumonia could fall 30 percent, while child deaths caused by diarrhea could fall an incredible 60 percent.  This could reduce the overall child mortality rate by 13 percent across the most vulnerable countries.  Yet, it is imperative that the poorest households are targeted with treatment and prevention interventions, rather than the better-off households.  The UNICEF report states that nearly six times as many children’s lives could be saved in the poorest households of Bangladesh compared with the richest ones.

To protect our future generations, it is imperative that child deaths caused by pneumonia and diarrhea are significantly reduced.  By reducing these preventable deaths using cost-effective and global initiatives, the survival gap between the poorest and richest children would significantly decrease.  Yet, more importantly, implementing these interventions would “accelerate progress towards eliminating preventable child deaths” across the world.

Category: Infectious, Online

About the Author ()

Leave a Reply