WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

WHO and UNICEF launch global action plan for pneumonia and diarrhea

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund announced a new global action plan on Friday that could save as many as two million children annually from pneumonia- and diarrhea-related deaths.

The plan, which is called the Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhea, sets targets to reduce mortality rates through increased levels of children's access to life-saving interventions and closer integration of prevention and treatment efforts.

"Too often, strategies to tackle pneumonia and diarrhea run in parallel," Elizabeth Mason, the director of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health at WHO, said. "But as countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Pakistan and Tanzania are already showing, it makes good health sense and good economic sense to integrate those strategies more closely."

Some elements such as good nutrition, a clean environment and access to the right health services and medicines help protect children from both pneumonia and diarrhea. Low- and middle-income countries have not capitalized on such common elements.

"This is a question of equity," Mickey Chopra, the global head of UNICEF's health programs, said. "Poor children in low-income countries are most at risk of death from pneumonia or diarrhea but much less likely to get the interventions they need. We know what to do. If, in the 75 countries with the highest death rates, we apply to the entire population the same coverage of essential interventions enjoyed by the richest 20 percent of households, we can prevent the deaths of two million children even as soon as 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals."

The action plan sets several goals to achieve by 2025, including a 75 percent reduction in incidence of severe pneumonia and diarrhea from 2010 levels in children under five, a 40 percent reduction in the global number of children under five who are stunted and the virtual elimination of deaths from both diseases in the under five age group.

The plan calls on governments and other stakeholders to prioritize investment in population groups with poor access to health services. Close to 90 percent of diarrhea and pneumonia deaths in children occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.