Hyderabad: India has made substantial progress in the fight against pneumonia and diarrhoea, the two leading causes of infant and child mortality, according to the 2016 Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Progress Report published by the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“India achieved an improvement of seven percentage points, by continuing to roll out Hib vaccine (pentavalent) and improving exclusive breastfeeding rates. India, however, still remained below the threshold of 50%,” IVAC said in its report.
The report funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it expects India rankings to improve with progress in immunization coverage, as the country introduced rotavirus vaccine in four states in 2016 with further expansion planned in 2017 and expected roll-out of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) from early 2017.
In 2015, 5.9 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday. Of these 5.9 million deaths, pneumonia was responsible for 16% and diarrhea for 9%, making these diseases two leading killers of children worldwide. Together these diseases claimed the lives of nearly 1.5 million children under the age of 5 in a single year; India accounts for a fifth of these deaths.
While pneumonia can swiftly take a young life, diarrhoeal diseases can compromise health more broadly by leading to a vicious cycle of malnutrition, stunted growth, cognitive impairment and poor immune response.
In addition, treatments for either illness can cause serious financial difficulties, contributing to the cycle of poverty.
In the report, IVAC identified 15 countries with high burden pneumonia and diarrhoea that account 72% of total deaths under the age of five in a given year. IVAC then used a scoring method based on the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
A country’s “GAPPD score” measures the use of interventions that protect against, prevent and treat pneumonia and diarrhoea. The higher the score, the more interventions are being used.
These interventions include vaccination, exclusive breastfeeding, access to care and use of antibiotics, oral rehydration solution and zinc to treat the illnesses. These measures are known to prevent childhood deaths due to pneumonia and diarrhoea and could help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development target goal of reducing under-five mortality to at least 25 per 1,000 live births by 2030.
India increased its score by seven percentage points to 41, although it remains way short of the 86% target.
“Pneumonia and diarrhoea fly under the radar,” said Kate O’Brien, professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of international health and IVAC’s executive director.
“These illnesses are so common that many people and organizations fail to recognize the need to step up efforts and identify creative solutions to fight them. Although most cases are easily prevented and treated, they often prove deadly when families cannot access basic health services such as vaccines and antibiotic treatment,” O’Brien said.
To be sure, the world has made lot of progress by cutting the pneumonia- and diarrhoea-related child deaths by more than half worldwide since 1990, from 91 deaths per 1,000 live births to 43 in 2015.