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WHO, UNICEF Publish Plan To Reduce Childhood Diarrhea Deaths

The WHO and UNICEF have released a seven-point treatment and prevention plan to reduce the number of children around the world who die from diarrhea, the BBC reports (10/14). BMJ News writes, “Every year 1.5 million children aged under 5 years die from diarrhoea, more than 80% of them in Africa and south Asia” (Zarocostas, 10/14). This amounts to more annual childhood deaths than from AIDS, malaria and measles combined, according to the BBC (10/14).

“According to the report, just 15 countries account for almost three-quarters of diarrhea deaths among children under five years of age — India, Nigeria, Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Uganda, Kenya, Niger, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Mali and Angola,” writes Associated Press/GMA News (10/15). The Times of India reports that “88 percent of diarrhoeal deaths worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene” (10/15).

WHO and UNICEF said that 39 percent of children in developing countries received the proper treatment of zinc supplements and low-osmolarity oral rehydration salts for the condition, Reuters reports. The news service writes, “Vaccinations against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe gastroenteritis with vomiting and diarrhoea in babies and children, as well as better sanitation and proper rehydration treatment would help solve the problem, [the agencies] said” (Kelland, 10/14). Other elements of the plan include promotion of breastfeeding, vitamin A supplementation, hand washing with soap, improved water supplies, and measles immunization (Xinhua, 10/15).

According to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, “We know where children are dying of diarrhoea. We know what must be done to prevent those deaths. We must work with governments and partners to put this seven-point plan into action,” the BBC reports (10/14).  “There is no reason for these deaths,” said WHO’s Olivier Fontaine. He added, “There are 20th-century revolutionary medical miracles that should have wiped out [diarrhoea] by now,” IRIN reports (10/15).

More information on the plan is available in a WHO/UNICEF press release (10/14) as well as in a Lancet comment  (Wardlaw et al.,10/14).

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