Two-Thirds Of Child Deaths In 2008 Due To Infectious Diseases, Report Finds

Pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and other infectious diseases accounted for two-thirds of the 8.8 million deaths in 2008 among children under age 5 around the world, according to a Lancet study published on Wednesday, HealthDay News/Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. The highest numbers of childhood deaths were in Africa (4.2 million) and Southeast Asia (2.39 million), according to the news service (5/11).

For the analysis, experts from the WHO and UNICEF’s Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG) “assessed data from 193 countries to produce estimates by country, region and the world,” according to a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health press release. The study was funded by WHO, UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (5/11).

“The authors of the report found that infectious diseases caused 5.97 million deaths among [children] under age 5 in 2008. Pneumonia (18 percent), diarrhea (15 percent) and malaria (8 percent) accounted for the highest numbers,” HealthDay News/Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes (5/11). The study identified pre-term birth complications and a lack of oxygen during birth as the “two greatest single causes of death” among newborns, ANI/Times of India reports. It also found that “[n]ewborn deaths – those within the first month of life – increased as a proportion of all child deaths globally from 37 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2008” (5/12).

About half of all child deaths “occurred in just five countries – China, Nigeria, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan,” HealthDay News/Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. Overall, the number of childhood deaths “has fallen from 10.6 million per year from 2000-2003 to 8.8 million in 2008, the authors noted,” according to the news service (5/11).

The analysis looked at country and regional differences, “underscor[ing] how global efforts must be targeted to have maximum impact. Malaria, for instance, is responsible for approximately 16 percent of deaths in Africa, but is a comparatively minor disease in the rest of the world. The study did reveal successes in fighting some infectious diseases, such as measles and tetanus – each now only accounts for 1 percent of child deaths worldwide,” ANI/Times of India reports (5/12).

Study leader Robert Black, chair of the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it is important for “governments, public health organizations and donors to have accurate country-level estimates so they can target their efforts effectively” to reach the Millennium Development Goal related to child mortality by 2015, ANI/Times of India reports. “The persistence of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, all of which are easily preventable and curable but which nonetheless remain the leading single causes of death worldwide, should spur us to do more to control these diseases,” said Mickey Chopra, chief of health at UNICEF (5/12).

A Reuters factbox highlights the study’s major findings (5/12).

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