Diarrhoea and Pneumonia: The biggest killer diseases of kids!

By ZRG | Updated: Apr 17, 2013, 17:20 PM IST

Ankita Chakrabarty/ Zee Research Group/ Delhi

Given its current performance level, India is unlikely to meet the just stipulated benchmark on mitigation of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea among infants in the country.

The death rate due to pneumonia and diarrhoea has increased by one per cent during the last decade in India. The new World Health Organisation (WHO) goal is to reduce combined mortality from pneumonia and severe diarrhoea to fewer than four deaths per 1,000 live births by 2025 as against 20 deaths currently.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and The United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) have set up the Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) to reduce the existing death rates due to the disease by 2025.

According to a report on the causes of infant deaths in India by Registrar General of India, in 2001-03, 22 percent of infant deaths were caused by respiratory infections and ten percent by diarrhoeal diseases. However, as per the WHO- UNICEF Report- “Countdown to 2015,’’ as on 2012, 23 percent of deaths occurred here due to pneumonia and 12 percent of deaths happened due to diarrhoea in the under five age population.

There is more evidence of the seriousness of the problem in India: More than two lakh children in India died because of diarrhoea and pneumonia in 2011, according to recent findings on child mortality published in the Lancet in April 2013.

The statistics, however, do not surprise the medical fraternity in the country. Dr. Ashish Gupta, senior consultant, pediatrics at Rockland Hospital laments, “In 2011, diarrhoea killed seven lakh children under five and pneumonia 13 lakh globally. Of the diarrhoea deaths, 72 per cent were less than two years old and of pneumonia deaths, 81 per cent. The situation in India is no better.”

Can India meet the new global benchmark? The answer is an emphatic no! Dr. Gupta at Rockland, says, “These diseases cannot be completely wiped out. They are caused by many micro organisms. There are few vaccines available and awareness about them is also low since vaccination for pneumonia and diarrhoea is not part of the mandatory national immunisation program for children.”

The WHO and UNICEF say child deaths from pneumonia and severe diarrhoea, mainly among the poor in Africa and South Asia, could be virtually eliminated by 2025 under an "integrated" strategy that includes better sanitation and newer vaccines. The ten year action plan, estimated to cost $6.0 billion, aims to stop two million children under the age of five dying each year from the killer diseases according to WHO estimates.

Offering solutions for disease mitigation, Dr. Shekhar Vashist, consultant, pediatrics at Moolchand Medcity, Delhi, says, “It is very necessary for public and private organisation to join the hands for this purpose. This disease basically spreads due to poor hygiene and contaminated drinking water especially in crowded residential areas. Thus, creating awareness among masses is very essential to commence the drive to eradicate these diseases.”

The U.N. plan is ambitious, calling for 90 percent of children under five to have access to antibiotics for pneumonia and life-saving oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea, tripling current access rates. Zinc and ORS are recommended by the World Health Organisation for the treatment of simple diarrhoea in children.

“Also, the main causes of the diseases are malnutrition, poor beast feeding practices and unhygienic conditions which can be tackled through effective awareness. Hence the diseases can be minimised but cannot be completely eliminated,” further adds Dr. Gupta at Rockland Hospital.