UNICEF is launching a major global health campaign to tackle the two leading killers of children under the age of five. The agency's new report says finding more effective ways to prevent and treat pneumonia and diarrhea can significantly reduce childhood mortality worldwide.
Prompt and effective antibiotic treatment saved a child suffering from acute pneumonia. Not everyone is so lucky. In many poor regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, pneumonia and diarrhea together account for one third of the deaths among children under five.
With the new report, UNICEF officials hope to launch a new global campaign against pneumonia and diarrhea. The campaign will focus on these two preventable illnesses as part of a broader plan to improve the welfare of children worldwide.
UNICEF's Holly Newby says the two killer infections have not previously received the public attention they deserve.
“Because these are such major killers of children we have to tackle these in a serious way. It's important to bear one point in mind though, and that is unlike some of the other diseases that have risen to prominence, diarrhea and pneumonia are quite complicated to deal with,” she explained.
The report notes that only one third of children diagnosed with pneumonia receive antibiotics. As a result, the respiratory infection kills a child somewhere in the world every minute.
“The price of inaction is staggering,” said Dr. Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.
With UNICEF support, he is leading a campaign to distribute pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which Levine says can protect children throughout the developing world against pneumonia and diarrhoea. “For us the work is only just begun so what we are doing is racing to try and make sure that the vaccine gets out to the children who need it the most as quickly as it can," he explained. "We hope that by 2015 as many as 50 million kids could be immunized with this vaccine.”
UNICEF officials say the campaign will be a complex challenge.
"Now is the time to put pneumonia and diarrhea back on the agenda in a serious way," Newby stated.
“One of the issues with pneumococcus is there are 90 different strains of the bacteria,"
According to the UNICEF report, prevention and treatment of the two infections will involve similar strategies: increasing the distribution of vaccines and antibiotics, encouraging breastfeeding, expanding access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and disseminating oral rehydration salts to children with diarrhea.