- Two international reports focusing on child mortality have criticised both developing countries' governments and donors for neglecting the path to reaching the millennium goal of child survival.
PATH and WaterAid America released two new reports today that show that the international aid community and developing-country governments are not responding to clear evidence on child mortality by targeting resources where the disease burden is greatest.
"Diarrheal disease, a leading killer of children under age five worldwide, is responsible for the deaths of nearly 1.6 million children annually, yet it receives very little attention from both policymakers and the public," said the two organisations, while also noting that during the 1980s and 1990s, diarrheal disease mortality rates were cut by nearly 50 percent, because of wide availability and implementation of lifesaving prevention and treatment interventions.
They further point out that today, diarrheal disease receives significantly less funding than other diseases, despite accounting for 17 percent of deaths of children under five, saying in some parts of the world, the severity of the disease is increasing.
The two reports, Diarrheal Disease: Solutions to Defeat a Global Killer from PATH and Fatal Neglect: How Health Systems are Failing to Comprehensively Address Child Mortality from WaterAid America highlight the urgent need to refocus attention on diarrheal disease.
The reports also recall that at the same time, a broad and diverse group of more than 75 organisations from many sectors have signed a Call to Action, demonstrating a unified show of support for aggressively meeting the challenge diarrheal disease presents today.
"The global health community knows what is necessary to save the lives of children suffering from diarrheal disease," said Dr John Wecker, director of the Immunization Solutions and Rotavirus Vaccine Program at PATH. "And now is the time to educate policymakers, donors, and international and national leaders about the need to implement the solutions to prevent and treat the most severe causes," he said.
In some of the key findings in the reports, while governments and the donor community are urged to respond urgently and better target resources where the disease burden is the greatest, both organisations also call for a comprehensive health systems strengthening that would address environmental factors such as sanitation and water that are critical to improving overall health and reducing diarrheal disease deaths.
"The Millennium Development Goal on child survival (MDG 4) will remain beyond our reach until diarrheal disease and the poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water that can lead to it are addressed," noted the reports.
The reports further point out that there are more lifesaving prevention and treatment solutions for diarrheal disease than any other major childhood killer, indicating interventions that include safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, breastfeeding and optimal complementary feeding, rotavirus vaccines, zinc treatment, and oral rehydration therapy or solution.
The report affirm that millions of children's lives could be saved by addressing diarrheal disease with a coordinated approach among health care providers, policymakers, and the international aid community focusing on both prevention and treatment interventions.
The report releases come at a time when the World Health Organisation (WHO) is reviewing data from studies of vaccines to prevent rotavirus - the most common and lethal diarrheal disease - from clinical trials in Africa and Asia.
The WHO will consider a global recommendation that every country introduce rotavirus vaccines into its routine immunization schedule based on this data.
"While diarrheal disease is a global killer, today the burden is greatest in developing nations in Africa and Asia where access to clean water, sanitation, and urgent medical care may be limited," said Nancy C. Bwalya-Mukumbuta, programme manager at WaterAid in Zambia. "The international aid system and developing-country governments need to come together with a strong voice and respond to diarrheal disease, one of the leading causes of child mortality, in a targeted manner," she added.
The Call to Action urges advocates, including organisations from the health, development, environmental, water/sanitation, and research communities, to push for adequate funding of both prevention and treatment interventions for diarrheal disease.
"The persisting high mortality rate from diarrheal disease in the presence of existing, cost-effective interventions and available resources to implement them represents a continuing scandal," said Olivier Fontaine, Medical Officer, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development at the WHO.
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