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Ending pneumonia and diarrhoea will save two million children a year

Each year, 1.3 million children die from pneumonia and 700,000 from diarrhoea, making them two of the world’s biggest killers of children under five.

Interventions exist to prevent and treat pneumonia and diarrhoea, especially among the youngest children, yet in the countries with the highest burden of child mortality less than 40% of children under five have access to these life-saving interventions.

The Lancet’s Child Survival series

Last week, I was privileged to be among leading global health experts for the launch of The Lancet’s new Child Survival series at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in London. This series provides much-needed evidence for integrated control of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Ten years ago, The Lancet’s first Child Survival series was a major milestone in global health as it mapped childhood disease and significantly improved our understanding of child health epidemiology globally.

This new Child Survival series focuses on the top two childhood illnesses specifically – pneumonia and diarrhoea – analysing the global spread of these diseases and barriers to access interventions.

The researchers highlight barriers faced by frontline health workers from high-burden countries in Africa and Asia, and have identified solutions through consultations and workshops involving several hundred academic, public health, government and private sector stakeholders.

The publication ends with a call to action, recommending scale-up of proven cost-effective interventions that can prevent most diarrhoea and pneumonia deaths in children by 2025.

An ambitious action plan

Also last week, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) led the launch of an ambitious global action plan aimed at ending preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by 2025. This would save up to two million children’s lives each year.

The plan sets clear goals for the world to achieve by 2025 – a 75% reduction in incidence of severe pneumonia and diarrhoea from 2010 levels among children under five, and the virtual elimination of deaths from both diseases in the same age-group.

It sets out an integrated approach to saving children’s lives, aiming to:

  • achieve 90% national coverage for routine immunisations and access to appropriate pneumonia and diarrhoea case management
  • ensure that at least half of all children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months
  • achieve  a 40% reduction in the global number of children under five who are stunted.

International support

This global action plan has been endorsed by governments, as well as a large number of academic partners and international agencies, including Save the Children.

This is without doubt an ambitious plan, and concerted efforts will be needed to ensure its effective implementation. Some funding seems to have been pledged already, but much more will be needed for years to come.

Through our programmes and partnerships, Save the Children is working to improve coverage of these proven and effective interventions, such as breastfeeding, oral rehydration solution, and community case management.

Without urgent accelerated and coordinated efforts, each year more than two million of the world’s most vulnerable children will continue to die from these diseases.

Working together, we can close this equity gap and end preventable deaths of young children around the world from two of the leading child killers, pneumonia and diarrhoea.

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