The Washington Post, December 2014
Do you know that feeling when someone tells you good news but you have to keep it a secret? We might be bursting to share our excitement, but we have to stay quiet.
This happened to me last week when I was at a scientific session on diarrheal disease and heard that the number of child deaths continues to decrease. I am really excited, that today, with the publication of the data in The Lancet, we can spread the good news.
Child mortality fell from 9.6 to 7.6 million deaths per year over the last decade, according to the updated analysis of annual trends in causes of child mortality from years 2000-2010 by the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG) of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The collective efforts of the global health community to save children’s lives are working. The decline in child mortality is proof positive that when we invest in prevention and treatment, we see the results in lives saved.
The overall trend also masks some challenges. Diarrheal disease and pneumonia continue to be the two diseases that are the leading killers of children. While the absolute numbers of deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia declined, the proportion of the mortality pneumonia causes remains about the same and the share from diarrhea fell only slightly. And, we have made little headway in reducing the overall burden of illness from diarrheal disease; the incidence of diarrhea has fallen very little. Finally the averages don’t do justice to the stark disparities. In the highest-burden countries, the death and disease toll is far worse than the averages show.
How do we double down? The other big topic at the meeting last week is the work underway on national strategies in the 10 highest burden countries and on a Global Action Plan for Diarrhea (D-GAP).
The national strategies focus on the increasing access to the lifesaving treatments for childhood illness. These strategies focus on increasing supply and improving access to zinc, ORS, and the key treatments for pneumonia and malaria. By funding these governments’ scale-up plans, donor countries can make a down payment to jump start progress.
For the D-GAP, WHO and UNICEF will be spearheading a series of consultations in countries and regions to agree on the full range of solutions: water, sanitation, and hygiene; vaccines; feeding and nutrition; and treatment. The result will be a new global norm that can guide country strategies and inform donor investments. Look for the launch of the D-GAP in March of next year.
Both the national strategies and the D-GAP will define concrete ways to further drive down the rates of sickness and death from diarrhea. Because after we pause to savor the impressive progress and the decisive return on our investments, it is time to redouble our efforts.
Eileen Quinn is director of communications for PATH's Vaccine Development Program and fearless leader of defeatDD's Poo Crew.
For more information:
- Diarrhoea Dialogues explores the opportunities in select countries for doubling down on diarrhea control.