Developed world neglects diarrheal diseases that kill 1.6 million
27 May 2009
PATH and WaterAid America have released two new reports that show
that the international aid community and developing-country governments
are not responding to clear evidence on child mortality by targeting
resources where the disease burden is greatest.
Diarrheal disease, a leading killer of children under age five
worldwide, is responsible for the deaths of nearly 1.6 million children
annually, yet it receives very little attention from both policymakers
and the public. During the 1980s and 1990s, diarrheal disease mortality
rates were cut by nearly 50%, made possible by wide availability and
implementation of lifesaving prevention and treatment interventions.
Today, diarrheal disease receives significantly less funding than
other diseases, despite accounting for 17 percent of deaths of children
under five. And in some parts of the world, the severity of the disease
Diarrheal Disease: Solutions to Defeat a Global Killer from
PATH and Fatal Neglect: How Health Systems are Failing to
Comprehensively Address Child Mortality from WaterAid America
highlight the urgent need to refocus attention on diarrheal disease, a
prolific global killer.
At the same time, a broad and diverse group of more than 75
organizations from many sectors have signed a call to action,
demonstrating a unified show of support for aggressively meeting the
challenge diarrheal disease presents today.
“The global health community knows what is necessary to save the
lives of children suffering from diarrheal disease,” said Dr John Wecker,
director of the Immunization Solutions and Rotavirus Vaccine Program at
PATH. “And now is the time to educate policymakers, donors, and
international and national leaders about the need to implement the
solutions to prevent and treat the most severe causes.”
Key findings in the reports indicate:
- The international aid system and developing-country
governments must respond to evidence on child mortality — of which
diarrheal disease is a leading cause — and better target resources
where the disease burden is the greatest.
- Comprehensive health systems strengthening that addresses
environmental factors such as sanitation and water are critical to
improving overall health and reducing diarrheal disease deaths. The
Millennium Development Goal on child survival (MDG 4) will remain
beyond our reach until diarrheal disease and the poor sanitation and
unsafe drinking water that can lead to it are addressed.
- There are more lifesaving prevention and treatment
solutions for diarrheal disease than any other major childhood
killer. These interventions include safe water, improved sanitation
and hygiene, breastfeeding and optimal complementary feeding,
rotavirus vaccines, zinc treatment, and oral rehydration therapy
(ORT)/oral rehydration solution (ORS).
- Millions of children’s lives could be saved by addressing
diarrheal disease with a coordinated approach among health care
providers, policymakers, and the international aid community
focusing on both prevention and treatment interventions.
The report releases come at a critical time when the World Health
Organization (WHO) is reviewing data from studies of vaccines to prevent
rotavirus—the most common and lethal diarrheal disease—from clinical
trials in Africa and Asia. The WHO will consider a global recommendation
that every country introduce rotavirus vaccines into its routine
immunization schedule based on this data.
“While diarrheal disease is a global killer, today the burden is
greatest in developing nations in Africa and Asia where access to clean
water, sanitation, and urgent medical care may be limited,” said Nancy
C. Bwalya-Mukumbuta, program manager at WaterAid in Zambia. “The
international aid system and developing-country governments need to come
together with a strong voice and respond to diarrheal disease, one of
the leading causes of child mortality, in a targeted manner.”
The Call to Action urges advocates, including organizations from the
health, development, environmental, water/sanitation, and research
communities, to push for adequate funding of both prevention and
treatment interventions for diarrheal disease. These organizations, such
as the UN Foundation, Save the Children, WaterAid America, and Earth Day
Network, are also joining together to reaffirm their commitment to the
MDGs. World leaders have committed to child survival and improving
conditions for future generations around the world by 2015 through the
MDGs. But, today, progress toward these goals is seriously off track. If
diarrheal disease and the poor sanitation and unsafe water that can lead
to it continue to be ignored, the child survival MDG will be
“The persisting high mortality rate from diarrheal disease in the
presence of existing, cost-effective interventions and available
resources to implement them represents a continuing scandal,” said
Olivier Fontaine, Medical Officer, Department of Child and Adolescent
Health and Development at the WHO.
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