* Breastfeeding for first six months of life critical
* Coherent, reliable vaccine distribution another key
* Simple, cheap measures like hand washing important too
* India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia singled out
By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK, June 8 Concerted efforts to control
diarrhea and pneumonia, the biggest killers of children under
the age of five, could save the lives of up to 2 million of the
world's poorest children each year, the United Nations
Children's Fund said on Friday.
The lives saved would be largely in Sub-Saharan Africa and
South Asia, according to a new study from the Fund.
"Scaling up simple interventions could overcome two of the
biggest obstacles to increasing child survival (and) help give
every child a fair chance to grow and thrive," said Anthony
Lake, executive director of the Fund, known as UNICEF.
The study called for coherent and reliable distribution
plans for new vaccines against the major causes of pneumonia and
diarrhea - including the influenza virus, rotavirus and
It noted that one of the simplest and most effective ways to
protect babies from disease is exclusive breastfeeding during
the first six months of life, although fewer than 40 percent of
infants receive such protection.
"Infants not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die due
to pneumonia than are exclusively breastfed children," it noted.
Pneumonia and diarrhea, which often occur simultaneously,
account for 29 percent of deaths among children under five
worldwide - or more than 2 million a year. Nearly 90 percent of
the children who die from the two diseases live in sub-Saharan
Africa and South Asia, the report said.
It noted that about half of those deaths occur in just five
mostly poor and populous countries: India, Nigeria, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Ethiopia.
Current care for children with pneumonia is haphazard in the
75 countries with the highest mortality rate, it added, with
fewer than one-third of affected children receiving antibiotics.
CHILD HEALTH EXPERTS TO CONFER
Likewise, the study said inexpensive but potentially
life-saving oral rehydration salts are used by only one third of
the children with diarrhea in developing countries.
"Child deaths due to pneumonia in these countries could fall
30 percent, and child deaths due to diarrhea could fall 60
percent," the report said, if interventions among poor children
were raised to the level seen in the richest 20 percent of
households in the same countries.
In that event, deaths of children from all causes could be
reduced about 13 percent in those 75 countries by 2015, it said.
Adequate nutrition, hand washing with soap, safe drinking
water and basic sanitation are also deemed vital safeguards
against pneumonia and diarrhea, but are largely absent in
"This report is a call to action" against the two childhood
scourges, UNICEF said, adding that a global action plan will be
released next year and set out a "clear and integrated vision"
of how to proceed.
The UNICEF report was issued ahead of a planned meeting
next week in Washington convened by the governments of Ethiopia,
India and the United States on child-survival objectives. Some
700 experts from government and the private sector are expected
UNICEF, a U.N. agency, works for children's rights, their
health, development and protection from violence, exploitation
and abuse, according to the www.unicef.org Web site.