Wednesday, 15 October 2014

UN’s new action plan to save 1m African children yearly

By: Chioma Umeha

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has launched a new Action Plan to eliminate two of the main killer diseases of children in Africa – pneumonia and diarrhoea. This is in line with the United Nations (UN) provision which states that universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene in Africa, besides availability of vaccines and treatments, is critical in ending preventable child deaths.  A joint statement on Thursday, signed by WaterAid, noted that ending preventable pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths would save the lives of over one million children in Africa every year. “Today, UNICEF and the WHO have launched a new action plan tackling for the first time two of the three biggest killer diseases of children under five in Africa – pneumonia and diarrhea,” the statement said.

It added; “the plan aims to end preventable deaths of children in Africa from these diseases by 2025, which would save over one million lives a year.” WHO’s report noted that both pneumonia and diarrhoea account for 29 per cent of all child deaths globally, resulting in the deaths of more than two million children each year. “We already know interventions that work, such as: exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months, vaccines, handwashing, drinking water, and appropriate treatments to name a few. To reduce preventable deaths, children most affected must have access to these interventions”, the report noted.

Nigerian children
But the report added: “the Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) by WHO/UNICEF goes to the heart of the challenge by recognizing that the only way to combat these two preventable diseases is to not address them separately, but fight them together in an integrated approach.” Also, Nelson Gomonda, WaterAid’s Pan-Africa Programme Manager, commented; “This Action Plan is all about doing more of what we already know works: Increasing access to drinking water and adequate sanitation, promoting breast feeding, improving availability of vaccines and making sure that treatment is on hand when children need them.

“It is the responsibility of African Governments to embrace and implement the plan and the cost of inaction and failure will be high and measured in the lives of the continent’s children.  With the support and assistance of organisations like WaterAid and donors, we can succeed in ending these preventable deaths,” Gomonda said.  He further lamented that over 600,000 children under five die of pneumonia while more than 400,000 die of diarrhea, annually, in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Between them, they account for over a quarter, 28 per cent of all the child deaths on the continent, he added.  The Action Plan calls for a substantial shift is in how poverty reduction efforts are coordinated in Africa.  Aid programmes need to bring together different areas of work, such as access to drinking water, health and education, to make them more effective.

The new plan calls on governments to prioritise investment in the poorest and least-served population groups.  For example, in Africa’s towns and cities, nearly three-quarters, 73 per cent, of the richest people enjoy access to adequate sanitation, while for the poorest groups in these areas only 15 per cent have access. In conjunction with dozens of development charities, WaterAid has signed a joint statement in support of the new Action Plan that declares:  “We can save countless lives by using an integrated approach to fighting disease, improving access to proven interventions and by prioritising efforts to reach the poorest and most marginalised children. As the latest data demonstrate, the Global Action Plan on Pneumonia and Diarrhoea provides the most cost-effective approach and will help achieve the greatest impact in reducing child deaths.”

The statement offers recommendations for developing country governments, businesses and donors. The new integrated Global Action Plan builds on existing commitments and initiatives, such as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health and Every Woman Every Child; the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health; the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children; Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed; the 2012 Declaration on scaling up treatment of diarrhoea and pneumonia; the Sanitation and Water for All partnership; the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015; Sustainable sanitation: The Drive to 2015 and the Global Vaccine Action Plan. The Action Plan is being launched in conjunction with a new Lancet Series on Childhood Pneumonia and Diarrhoea. The four papers in the Series provide the evidence base for integrated action on these two illnesses and include new data on burden, epidemiology, interventions that work, and the financial cost of ending preventable deaths from childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia by 2025.

This story was published in Daily Newswatch on April 13, 2013

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