Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  

Six diseases cause 73 pc of child deaths: WHO

Six mainly preventable diseases account for 73 percent of child deaths each year, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.

Pneumonia accounts for 19 percent of the under-fives who die, followed by diarrhoea, pre-term delivery, malaria, blood infection and lack of oxygen at birth.

"New estimates show that worldwide more than seven in 10 of the 10.6 million annual deaths in children younger than 5 years are attributable to six causes, and that four communicable disease categories account for more than half of all child deaths," said Robert Black, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

The figures compiled by Black and his colleagues are based on data from publications and continuing studies and were published in The Lancet medical journal.

They identified under-nutrition as an underlying cause of 53 percent of all deaths in young children.

Measles, neonatal tetanus and HIV/Aids also caused a small proportion of deaths. Most of the children who died from malaria are in Africa. Two countries, Sudan and Somalia, had the highest rates of the mosquito-borne disease.

The researchers said 42 percent of child fatalities occur in Africa and 29 percent are in the southeast Asia region.

Pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea and measles, which are preventable with care and treatment, account for 48 percent of the child deaths.

"The new estimates of the causes of child deaths should be used to guide public-health policies and programs," Black added.

In a separate study in the journal, Dr Anita Zaidi, of Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan said rates of neonatal infections in babies born in hospitals are up to 20 times higher in developing countries than in western nations.

Infections acquired around the time of birth, due to unhygienic practices in hospitals, are a major cause of infant deaths in poor countries.

Because of the unclean conditions, babies born in some hospitals may be facing the same, or an even higher, risk of infection as babies born at home.

Zaidi and her colleagues estimate that many of the infections acquired in hospital nurseries may not be treatable with prescribed antibiotics.

"When hospitals are seen as institutions where children experience poor outcomes at great cost, people in communities in which they live are less likely to seek institutional care, even if advised," she said.