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WHO, UNICEF launch action plan to promote children’s health

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Having a baby. Nothing seems more natural, positive and joyful. But the reality can be very different in some less fortunate regions of the world.

Over a quarter of a million women and three million newborn babies die each year during pregnancy and childbirth or soon afterwards, the majority of them in Africa and South Asia.

For every woman who dies at least 20 more suffer complications which leave them with lifelong disability and pain. These are terrifying facts that turn the joy of expectation into the fear of a life or death gamble.

Concerned about the need to promote children’s life, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have launched a new global action plan seeking to prevent and control pneumonia and diarrhoea among children.

The new plan can save up to two million children every year from deaths caused by pneumonia and diarrhoea, some of the leading killers of children under five, globally.

A statement signed by Fadéla Chaib of WHO, and Marixie Mercado of UNICEF, copied to the Ghana News Agency last Sunday, said the: “Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea calls for closer integration of efforts to prevent and treat the two diseases, set ambitious targets to reduce mortality rates and raise levels of children’s access to life-saving interventions”.

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It noted that many factors contributed to these two conditions, so no single intervention could effectively prevent, treat or control either pneumonia or diarrhoea.

The statement said as richer countries had demonstrated, a number of elements were key to reducing infections and deaths caused by these diseases, and cited that good nutrition and clean environment helped to protect children from pneumonia and diarrhoea.

It said new vaccines were being introduced to protect children from these diseases, and access to health services and the right medicines could ensure that they (children) get the needed treatment.

The statement said many existing efforts to address pneumonia and diarrhoea in low- and middle-income countries were yet to capitalise on these common elements.

It said that the new WHO/UNICEF action plan set clear goals for the world to achieve by 2025: A 75 per cent reduction in incidence of severe pneumonia and diarrhoea from 2010 levels among children under five, and the virtual elimination of deaths from both diseases in the same age-group.

The statement said the action plan also aimed at 40 per cent reduction in the number of children under five, who are stunted, globally.

It said, “The action plan’s targets are significantly higher than current levels; for example, it calls for 90 per cent of all children to have access to antibiotics for pneumonia and oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea, up from current levels of 31 and 35 per cent respectively.

“As an interim target, at least half of all children under six months should be exclusively breastfed, against the 2012 levels of 39 per cent.

The statement said all children should have access to improved sanitation and safe drinking water, and building on progress already made in some countries in introducing new vaccines against pneumococcal bacteria and rotavirus, it aims for 90 per cent coverage by the target date.

It said the action plan called on governments and other stakeholders to prioritise investment in the population groups with the poorest access to services to prevent and treat pneumonia and diarrhoea.

The statement said nearly 90 per cent of pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths among children currently occured in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It said in scaling up and refining existing efforts to protect children from diarrhoea and pneumonia and treating them appropriately, improved co-ordination between existing programmes and a wide range of actors, including the community and the private sector, would be key.

The statement said that efforts must also be sustainable over the longer term. — GNA