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Childhood Illnesses

Childhood Illnesses

Childhood Illnesses

Working to secure access to prevention, care and treatment for children most at risk of the most common childhood illnesses

6.6 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2012 according to UNICEF’s latest figures. Global progress in reducing child deaths since 1990 has been significant. In 1990, the number of deaths of children under five was estimated to be 12.6 million. Despite these gains, child survival remains an urgent concern At current child mortality rates, an estimated 18,000 young children die per day. Almost half of these deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa and the vast majority were from preventable and treatable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria. Globally, more than a third of under-five deaths are attributable to undernutrition.

Communicable diseases are the major cause of morbidity and mortality among children under five years, especially those living in poor conditions. Children who succumb to illness are forced to miss out on school, damaging their future prospects as well as the future economic health of their societies. Poor families are forced to spend a large proportion of whatever savings they have on treating their loved ones, damaging the whole family’s ability to climb out of the poverty trap.

How is Malaria Consortium helping children to survive?

Malaria Consortium is committed to the control and prevention of communicable diseases that kill and impoverish children. Malaria Consortium works to secure the access of high-risk groups to prevention, care and treatment of malaria and other communicable diseases including pneumonia, diarrhoea and neglected tropical diseases. We strive to improve and support public health services and educate key figures at the community level, key interventions that have been shown to increase childhood survival.

Malaria Consortium recognises the symptom overlap between malaria and pneumonia and is working with partners to expand the home based management of malaria strategy to include diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia. We are also working closely with governments and partners to expand community based strategies to include management of diarrhoeal diseases and implementation of best practices to achieve improvements in child survival. Malaria Consortium always bases its interventions on sound evidence-based research and advocates for the use of best practices. 

Malaria Consortium continues to advocate for an increased response to malaria and other childhood illnesses. All Malaria Consortium projects have a health system strengthening component in order to improve overall health service delivery. Malaria Consortium is also committed to extending the delivery of services to hard to reach areas whilst striving to expand community based management of childhood illnesses in South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique. 

Pneumonia

Pneumonia kills more children than any other disease. According to the WHO and UNICEF, approximately 18 percent of child deaths each year are caused by the illness. In developing countries, pneumonia is mainly caused by a bacterial infection that can be effectively treated with inexpensive antibiotics.

Pneumonia often affects children with low birth weight, compromised immune systems, malnutrition or measles. Without treatment, pneumonia kills quickly. A further problem is that children with pneumonia can exhibit a wide range of symptoms that also mimic malaria or indeed can occur in association with malaria (mixed morbidity), making it essential to treat both diseases. Malaria Consortium has been helping community health workers to address this particular problem and raising awareness of mixed morbidity amongst mothers and older children.

Research shows that pneumonia can be treated successfully at the community level with high dose oral antibiotics (relieving the burden on overstretched hospitals). Increasing zinc intake and improving personal hygiene are two more proven preventative measures that have some role in reduction of deaths due to pneumonia, though their main role is in the reduction of morbidity and mortality associated with diarrhoea.

A large number of deaths from pneumonia are caused by the pneumoccocus bacterium for which there is also a very effective but very expensive vaccine not widely available in Africa but widely available in the US and Europe.  If this vaccine was deployed it would save many lives, particularly as the pneumococcus is increasingly resistant to common antibiotics. 


Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea causes approximately 11 percent of child deaths each year worldwide, making them a leader killer of children under five. Diarrhoeal diseases are caused by ingestion of contaminated water/food or by poor hygiene and sanitation practices. They are most prevalent in areas where people struggle to find safe drinking water for drinking, cooking and sanitation. Untreated diarrhoeal episodes can cause severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance (loss of essential minerals from the body) resulting in death. 

Diarrhoeal diseases can be treated simply and effectively. Given the fact that they are mainly caused by a virus, most diarrhoeal disease do not require antibiotics. Oral rehydration salts (ORS) are one of the most effective ways of ensuring diarrhoeal diseases pass without causing lasting or fatal complications. Zinc has recently been shown to reduce both the duration and number of diarrhoeal episodes, while improving personal hygiene by hand washing prevents a massive 0.5 to 1.4 million deaths per year according to UNICEF. Making communities aware of the effectiveness of hand washing is a key strategy that can guarantee real progress in combating the burden of diarrhoeal diseases. 


Malaria

According to the World Malaria Report 2012, an estimated 219 million cases of malaria (2010 WHO figures) resulted in 660,000 deaths. Most of these deaths were among young children in Africa. 

Malaria is most often caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Malaria accounts for one in five childhood deaths in Africa. Anaemia, low birth weight, epilepsy and neurological problems are the all-too-familiar consequences of malaria in children.

Treating fevers caused by malaria at home has been a successful strategy in reducing malaria deaths amongst African children. Malaria can be easily treated at the community level with the most effective drug being artemisinin combined treatments (ACT) which many countries have made progress in distributing. There remains, however, a need to incorporate differential diagnosis and supply antibiotics alongside anti-malarial drugs in cases of malaria overlapping with pneumonia. 

There has been a marked improvement in malaria diagnostics, with easy to use rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) that give results in 15 minutes, becoming more affordable and available. The use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) – mosquito nets treated with insecticide – has also proved to be an effective prevention method to combat malaria.

However, due to poor accessibility and availability of health services, malaria is still too often left untreated. Educating key community members to recognise symptoms of malaria and be aware of treatments has saved the lives of many children. 

Malaria is most often caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito helping herself to a blood meal to nurture her eggs. Malaria accounts for one in five childhood deaths in Africa. Anaemia, low birth weight, epilepsy and neurological problems are the all-too-familiar consequences of malaria in children.

Treating fevers caused by malaria at home has been a successful strategy in reducing malaria deaths amongst African children. Malaria can be easily treated at the community level with the most effective drug being artemisinin combined treatments (ACT) which many countries have made progress in distributing. There remains, however, a need to incorporate differential diagnosis and supply antibiotics alongside anti-malarial drugs in cases of malaria overlapping with pneumonia.

There has been a marked improvement in malaria diagnostics, with easy to use rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), that give results in 15 minutes, becoming more affordable and available. The use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLIN) has likewise proved to be an effective prevention method to combat malaria.

However, due to poor accessibility and availability of health services, unfortunately malaria is often still left untreated and turns fatal very quickly. Educating key community members to recognise symptoms of malaria and be aware of treatments has saved the lives of many children. 

Nutrition

Nutrition is a largely a neglected aspect of newborn and child health, yet the WHO and UNICEF estimate that globally, more than a third of under-five deaths are attributable to undernutrition. In South Sudan, where malnutrition is a major problem especially in returnee camps in the north of the country, Malaria Consortium is running an innovative programme to assess and treat malnutrition at the community level. Community workers are trained to diagnose and treat malnutrition using the already established community case management networks. This extends the reach and allows severe cases to be referred earlier. By addressing the causes and effects of the three leading causes of death in children, the nutrition programme aims to have a positive impact on childhood mortality.

 

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