UN calls for greater efforts to prevent millions of children dying of diarrhoea annually

14 October 2009
A woman gives a toddler a spoonful of oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration.

United Nations agencies today called for a renewed push to save the lives of millions of children in poor countries who die each year from diarrhoea.

“It is a tragedy that diarrhoea, which is little more than an inconvenience in the developed world, kills an estimated 1.5 million children each year,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman.

“Inexpensive and effective treatments for diarrhoea exist, but in developing countries only 39 per cent of children with diarrhoea receive the recommended treatment,” added Ms. Veneman at the joint launch with the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new report on the issue.

The report released today by UNICEF and WHO outlines a seven-point plan to reduce the number of children contracting and dying from diarrhoea, the second deadliest illness for the young behind pneumonia.

The prevention strategies laid out in the plan include: fluid replacement to prevent dehydration; zinc treatment; rotavirus and measles vaccinations; promotion of early and exclusive breastfeeding and vitamin A supplementation; improved water supply quantity and quality, including treatment and safe storage of household water; support for community-wide; and encouraging hand washing with soap.

“We know where children are dying of diarrhoea,” noted WHO Director-General Margaret Chan at the launch of the “Diarrhoea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done” report.

“We know what must be done to prevent those deaths,” said Ms. Chan. “We must work with governments and partners to put this seven-point plan into action.”

UNICEF and WHO underscored the urgent need to refocus energies on preventing and treating diarrhoea after the international community shifted its attention away from the problem in the wake of successful campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s.

Treating diarrhoea with low concentrations of oral rehydration solution and zinc tablets decrease the severity and duration of the attack, and are simple, inexpensive and life-saving, the agencies said.

In addition, access to clean water and good hygiene practices are effective in preventing childhood diarrhoea. Hand washing with soap alone can reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by over 40 per cent.

Although 90 per cent of diarrhoeal diseases worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, in 2006 an estimated 2.5 billion people were not using clean sanitation facilities, and nearly one in every four people in developing countries was practicing open defecation.


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