NAIROBI Kenya, Apr 12 – A programme with the potential to save up to two million children every year from deaths caused by pneumonia and diarrhoea – some of the leading killers of children under five globally – was launched on Friday by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea calls for closer integration of efforts to prevent and treat these two diseases and sets ambitious targets to reduce mortality rates and raise levels of children’s access to life-saving interventions.
“Too often, strategies to tackle pneumonia and diarrhoea run in parallel,” says Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at WHO.
“But as countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Pakistan and Tanzania are already showing, it makes good health sense and good economic sense to integrate those strategies more closely,” Mason expressed.
“Many factors contribute to these two conditions, so no single intervention can effectively prevent, treat or control either pneumonia or diarrhoea. However, as richer countries have demonstrated, a number of elements are key to reducing infections and deaths from both diseases,” a statement sent to newsrooms reads.
Good nutrition and a clean environment help protect children from both pneumonia and diarrhoea.
The statement also says; “new vaccines are being introduced to protect children from these diseases. Good access to health services and the right medicines can ensure they get the treatment they need.”
“This is a question of equity. Poor children in low-income countries are most at risk of death from pneumonia or diarrhoea but much less likely to get the interventions they need,” said Dr Mickey Chopra, global head of UNICEF’s health programmes.
“We know what to do. If, in the 75 countries with the highest death rates, we apply to the entire population the same coverage of essential interventions enjoyed by the richest 20 percent of households, we can prevent the deaths of two million children even as soon as 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals,” Dr Chopra added.
The Action Plan’s targets are significantly higher than current levels. For example, it calls for 90 percent of all children to have access to antibiotics for pneumonia and oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea, up from current levels of 31 and 35 percent respectively.
The Action Plan comes at a time when the global community has strengthened its commitment towards the health MDGs, including towards reducing child mortality. These include the United Nations Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child initiative and within it, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, a global movement spearheaded by UNICEF through which more than 170 countries have committed to ending all preventable child deaths by 2035.
The new WHO/UNICEF Action Plan sets clear goals for the world to achieve by 2025: a 75 percent reduction in incidence of severe pneumonia and diarrhoea from 2010 levels among children under five, and the virtual elimination of deaths from both diseases in the same age-group. It also aims for a 40 percent reduction in the global number of children under five who are stunted.