Simple health measures would prevent 2.5 million child deaths a year
16 November 2009
Simple health interventions, such as safe water and hygiene,
bed nets and basic maternal and newborn care, would save about a third of
the children under five who die each year worldwide, says leading international aid agency World Vision.
Currently, 8.8 million children a year
under five die due to preventable causes. These lives could be saved if governments rebalanced health spending on
these low-cost, simple interventions.
A new report by the Christian humanitarian agency calls for scaling
up simple preventive health measures for mothers and children,
particularly at the community level. This must be a priority to make
rapid progress against the top child killers of pneumonia, diarrhea and
malaria, the international analysis shows.
Citing interventions that can cost pennies, the study concludes that
more strategic use of funding and resources would keep millions of
children from dying before they reach their fifth birthdays.
Key child health interventions include: appropriate breastfeeding,
essential newborn care, hand washing with soap, appropriate
complementary feeding, adequate iron, vitamin A supplements, oral
rehydration therapy, zinc, care-seeking for fever, full immunisation
coverage for age, malaria prevention and de-worming.
"Our world is in the grip of a chronic humanitarian crisis with more
than 24,000 children dying each day," said World Vision International's
President Kevin Jenkins. "Yet we know that even in the poorest
countries, most child deaths are not inevitable."
"The truth is politics, not poverty, is what is killing these
children. For many politicians, saving infants and children from illness
and death is simply not a priority. Our campaign will mobilize and equip
people worldwide to hold their leaders to account for ensuring child
health now," said Jenkins.
The report comes as World Vision launches Child Health Now, its first
global advocacy campaign, for the 100 countries in which it works. The
five-year initiative aims to help reduce child mortality by two-thirds
by 2015 through ensuring government leaders deliver on their commitments
to help meet this goal. This follows the United Nation's Millennium
Development Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality — "reduce by two-thirds,
between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate".
"At least 2.5 million children's lives could be saved each year by
implementing low-cost, simple interventions such as water and hygiene,
bed nets, and basic maternal and newborn care," said World Vision's
Jenkins. "As many as six million children could be saved yearly by
combining these approaches with more strategic allocation of resources
to meet needs at the community level, and by fulfilled global donor
In the US, government leaders have the opportunity to build on the
country's global health funding leadership by appropriating the
resources promised in last year's Global AIDS, TB and Malaria bill, and
moving on to pass the newly introduced Global Child Survival Act of
2009, which calls for a clear, coordinated strategy to save the lives of
newborns, infants and children in developing countries.
Recent history shows substantial progress is achievable: child deaths
have been cut by more than half since 1960, when 20 million children
died from preventable causes. Child mortality has decreased in all
regions of the world because of increased access to interventions such
as oral rehydration therapy and immunizations — and further progress can
be made by expanding those approaches, emphasizing hand washing with
soap and providing needed vitamins, among other basic steps.
Report author Regina Keith, World Vision's senior health campaign
adviser, said much health funding — both from donor nations and
developing countries' budgets — is spent in ways that fail to have the
"Prevention is better, and cheaper, than treating children once they
get ill," said Keith. "Yet an estimated 270 million children live in
what amounts to a health care desert, lacking access to even the most
basic provision, while millions more face patchy, low-quality systems
they can't afford. If countries want to ensure the survival of their
next generation, they must focus on providing low-cost, simple
interventions to keep these young children healthy."