According to the latest statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), pneumonia and diarrhoea kill some 1.4 million children each year, mostly in middle and low-income countries, despite the fact that these illnesses are largely preventable through straightforward and cost-effective solutions.
The findings are part of a report that was released today, One is Too Many: Ending Child Deaths from Pneumonia and Diarrhoea in Marrakech while world leaders meet for the UN climate conference known by the shorthand COP22 to discuss the ways in which environmental issues are negatively impacting children’s health.
“We have seen clearly that air pollution linked to climate change is damaging the health and development of children by causing pneumonia and other respiratory infections,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Fatoumata Ndiaye said in a news release.
Roughly one child dies every 35 seconds from pneumonia, making it the leading infectious killer of children under the age of five. Nearly one million children were its victims in 2015 – more than malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and AIDS combined.
According to Ms. Ndiaye, the high rates in part have to do with the fact that some two billion children are living in areas where air pollution exceeds international guidelines. As a result, she says, many are falling ill and dying.
“World leaders meeting at COP22 can help to save children’s lives by committing to actions that will reduce air pollution linked to climate change and agreeing to investments in prevention and healthcare,” she said.
Rates of diarrhoea in children are also related to climate change: as precipitation declines in certain areas, the reduced availability of safe water means more children are at risk of contracting diarrhoeal diseases and suffering impaired physical and cognitive growth, if not death.
Since 2000, nearly 34 million children have died from pneumonia and diarrhoea. UNICEF estimates that a further 24 million will die by 2030 if further investments are not made in key prevention and treatment options.
“These illnesses have such a disproportionately high impact on child mortality and are relatively inexpensive to treat,” noted Ms. Ndiaye. “Yet they continue to receive only a fraction of global health investment which makes absolutely zero sense. That’s why we’re calling for increased global funding for protective, preventive and treatment interventions that we know will work to save children’s lives.”
According to the report that was released today, 80 per cent of childhood deaths linked to pneumonia and 70 per cent of those linked to diarrhoea occur during the first two years of life. 62 per cent of children under the age of five live in low and middle income countries but account for 90 per cent of child pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths worldwide.
UNICEF urges that funding be targeted towards children’s general healthcare as well as for those groups who are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia and diarrhoea – i.e., those under the age of five and living in lower and middle income countries.