UNICEF Report: Vaccines Can Save Millions of Children

Disease prevention can stop deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea.


A community health volunteer in the Kayes Region of Mali checks the breathing of a baby with pneumonia. (Photo: UNICEF)

Jun 8, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Millions of children’s lives could be saved with simple solutions to combat pneumonia and diarrhea, a new report from UNICEF says.

The report, released today, finds that just under a third of deaths among children under the age of five around the world are linked to pneumonia and diarrhea, with almost 90 percent of deaths from those illnesses happening in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The news offers an opportunity to throw the spotlight on boosting money, attention and dedication to increase survival rates.

“Pneumonia and diarrhea have suffered from a visibility issue over the last decade or so,” says Holly Newby, senior advisor, statistics and monitoring, for UNICEF. “Frankly, these are not subjects people like talking about.”

The reality, she added, is that there’s no silver bullet for these diseases. “We need to look across a variety of sectors, such as water, sanitation, immunization and nutrition to try to avoid these deaths, which are preventable.”

The UNICEF study also reported—no surprise here—that although new vaccines are available, poorer children in developing countries are less likely to get them than wealthier kids.

“Oftentimes when there are pockets of populations that are missing out,” Newby says, ‘it’s the most vulnerable in the poorest areas, and that’s something we’re trying to highlight.”

Technological advances and innovations can help, the report noted, like new, available vaccines and child-friendly zinc and amoxicillin tablets. Texting helps health workers reach out to remote areas where kids may be more susceptible.

What’s one of the easiest and best ways to protect babies from diseases? Breastfeeding.  But the report says that in developing countries less than 40 percent of babies under six months are breastfed exclusively.

“Prevention is important,” Newby says, “because it goes beyond these two killers.”

What do you think? Are you grateful for the availability of vaccines in the United States?

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