21 August 2012

Africa: UNICEF Battles Children's Pneumonia and Diarrhea

Photo: Unicef
A young child is immunised with the new Pneumonia vaccine.

Pneumonia and diarrhea account for nearly one-third of fatalities among children under the age of five worldwide - more than 2 million lives each year. The regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia have long accounted for 90 per cent of deaths. A recent UNICEF report directed attention to the epidemic of pneumonia and diarrhea and how they destroy the lives of children in developing countries.

The report details a plan to save the lives of over 2 million children by the year 2015. This may appear as an ambitious undertaking, but UNICEF insists it's possible. In fact, the low cost and ease of treatment would seem to make this mission feasible by the predictions of the organization.

Dr. Mark W. Young, Senior Health Specialist at UNICEF, emphacizes the need for cooperation from NGOs and governments in order to make the plan feasible. "There is recognition that making significant progress on pneumonia and diarrhea will require strong partnerships and collaboration at all levels," Young told MediaGlobal News. "Global partnerships and networks for effective advocacy; national governments to give greater priority to pneumonia and diarrhea in plans, strategies, and budgets; and partnerships with the private sector to promote innovation in the supply and delivery of key interventions. There are already signs that this occurring."

A Call to Action hosted in Washington, DC, in June by the US along with Ethiopia and India, in collaboration with UNICEF, provided renewed focus on addressing child survival. It concluded with a Declaration on Scaling up Treatment of Diarrhea and Pneumonia, since endorsed by a number of organizations and governments.

"Key stakeholder meetings to engage more with the private sector in diarrhea and pneumonia have already been held in a number of high-burden countries such as India, Nigeria, and Uganda, and are scheduled to take place in others over the coming months," says Young.

The contribution by WHO to assist UNICEF in this cause to help the world's poorest children had begun long before this report came out. The alliance between these two organizations, among others, has helped the ongoing struggle against these illnesses over the last two decades. As UNICEF's Executive Director stated in a press release, they know what works against those diseases. Scaling up simple interventions could help overcoming the existing obstacles and increase child survival dramatically.

The Global Action Plan for Pneumonia, or GAPP, was launched by WHO and UNICEF in 2009. The GAPP has been taken forward at the regional and country level through a series of regional and country workshops, bringing together government representatives from high-burden countries along with NGOs, bilateral, and multilateral agencies, to examine current barriers to scale-up and develop actions plans for moving forward.

"At the request of national governments these workshops included focus on diarrhea as well as pneumonia, since there is significant overlap in the interventions required to address both pneumonia and diarrhea," said Young.

Nevertheless, Young warns that concrete progress in these areas is not without significant challenges. "There are still major challenges with respect to the equity of intervention coverage, and there is a need to refocus efforts amongst the poorest and most deprived communities."

Young also points to significant progress in coverage of some of the key preventive interventions, such as access to safe water, improvements in sanitation, and exclusive breastfeeding, so this gives some level of confidence that progress can continue to be made and the goals are attainable.

One of the biggest problems outlined in the UNICEF document mentions the lack of treatment, allowing less than one-third of the affected children to receive proper treatment in the world's poorest countries. This indicates a failure in upholding child survival interventions in these countries, something that must change in order for future generations to live healthy lives.

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