An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five die from diarrhea each year -– more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined — according to a joint UNICEF-WHO report. The organizations hosted a teleconference today, featuring a panel of experts, to introduce the report.
The report, Diarrhea: Why Children are Still Dying and What Can Be Done, which reintroduces grim and widely understood statistics, launches a new 7-part prevention and treatment plan aimed to rekindle the fight against the water-borne disease. Part of the strategy includes distributing a recent WHO-approved vaccine for rotavirus, the number one cause of severe diarrhea among infants and young children.
The U.N. organizations hope to target developing areas like Africa and South Asia, where more than 50 percent of the cases occur. But the price of the vaccine and understaffed, overstretched national health departments are major regional obstacles, according to Dr. Carsten Mantel a WHO Medical Officer for the Expanded Program on Immunization Plus.
“Only 39 per cent of children with diarrhea in developing countries receive the recommended treatment, and limited trend data suggest that there has been little progress since 2000,” states the report.
Improving water quality and quantity as well as hygiene practices, especially hand washing, are “extremely” effective methods of fighting diarrhea in these areas, according to Elizabeth Mason, WHO Director of Child and Adolescent Health and Development.
But 1 billion people still lack proper access to water. And mounting climate change will likely cause more cases and further complicate treatment of diarrhea in developing countries.
According to Valuing Climate Change Impacts on Human Health: Empirical Evidence from the Literature, a report published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, in February, “developing countries will bear almost all the projected additional costs” of adapted treatments. Total worldwide cost for diarrhea treatment by 2030 could reach up to $9 billion if CO2 levels go unmitigated or up to $6 billon if they remain at 550ppm.
WHO and UNICEF officials hope this new agenda will tackle the multi-layered problems that worsen global child mortality rates.
“Water and sanitation are so integrally linked to the diarrhea issues,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman.
“We need to focus on all these areas – it’s critical to accelerate the progress.”