Urgent efforts needed to prevent deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia: WHO

PR 1509

Each day, 3500 children under the age of five years die of pneumonia and diarrhoea in WHO’s South-East Asia Region. More than 2.1 million deaths caused are by acute diarrhoea and respiratory infections among all ages in the Region, more than twice the combined deaths from HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

Globally, every year about 2 million children under 5 die from pneumonia and about 1.9 million from acute diarrhoea.

“Every minute one child under the age of five dies of pneumonia in WHO’s South-East Asia Region. Diarrhoea kills 6-7 under-five children every 5 minutes. These lives can be saved through simple interventions,” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO’s Regional Director for South-East Asia.

Providing oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoea and appropriate antibiotics in cases of pneumonia is crucial to save lives. Efforts to control these diseases and reduce mortality in children are ongoing. But the rate of use of oral rehydration therapy, the cornerstone of managing acute diarrhoea, remains below 40% in most high-burden countries of the Region. Similarly, the proportion of children with pneumonia receiving appropriate antibiotics in these countries remains less than 25%.

“Simple interventions like improving child nutrition, exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of 6 months, continued breastfeeding, zinc supplementation, expansion of immunization coverage, promotion of hand-washing and provision of safe drinking water and sanitation can prevent these diseases and deaths”, Dr Plianbangchang said. He was speaking to journalists at the WHO’s Sixty-third Regional Committee meeting in Bangkok.

Most morbidity and deaths caused by diarrhoea and pneumonia are related to poverty, lack of awareness and social inequities. e.g. unsafe water and sanitation, malnutrition, crowding, indoor air pollution, poor hygienic practices and poor access to health-care services. This situation persists in spite of the ongoing efforts for several years to reduce childhood mortality, and the availability of simple, safe, effective and inexpensive interventions.

To achieve the Millennium Development Goal No. 4 on reducing child mortality by 2015, countries need to mount special efforts to ensure that every child, especially the poor and unreached, gets access to the appropriate preventive, protective and curative interventions. Efforts to reduce the disease burden in the over-5 population are equally important.

Morbidity from these diseases is high across the age spectrum. Pneumonia and diarrhoea account for 11.6% of the total disease burden of the Region, a figure not matched by any other acute or chronic illness. In WHO’s South-East Asia Region, 1.4 million people die every year due to acute lower respiratory infections. In 2009, 1.15 million annual deaths from acute diarrhoea were estimated globally in the over-5 population, the majority of them in WHO’s South-East Asia and Africa regions.

WHO-SEARO has developed a strategic framework for a coordinated approach to prevention and control of acute diarrhoea and respiratory infections across the age spectrum. WHO urges Member States to establish programmes that encompass all age groups and integrate universal access to quality care with preventive and protective interventions. These interventions need to be well coordinated and supported by strong advocacy, community mobilization and empowerment, training, research, monitoring and evaluation, and mobilization of national and international responses. To do this multisectoral collaboration is very crucial.

For more information contact:

Ms Vismita Gupta-Smith
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
WHO South-East Asian Regional Office (SEARO)
New Delhi
Tel: 91-11-23309401
Mobile: +91 9871329861

Mr. Chadin Tephaval
Communication Officer
WHO Thailand
Tel: 089- 9254082