College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Spotlight on child health

Childhood deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia could be eliminated in just over a decade, researchers say.

University professors Harry Campbell and Igor Rudan say that with a little more investment around half of all child deaths in the world due to diarrhoea and pneumonia could be prevented by 2025.

The study is part of a special series on childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia published in The Lancet.

It reports that diarrhoea and pneumonia are the leading causes of death for children worldwide.

Together, they account for more than a quarter of all deaths in children worldwide and were responsible for around two million child deaths in 2011.

Prevention and treatment

University researchers also found that the diseases have a particularly severe effect on younger children.

More than a third of deaths from diarrhoea and more than four fifths of pneumonia deaths are in children under two years old, Edinburgh researchers Dr Evi Theodoratou and Dr Harish Nair found.

Professor Campbell’s paper also looks at possible prevention and treatment for both illnesses.

It identifies 15 key interventions that have the potential to save millions of children’s lives- including vaccinations, zinc supplementation and breastfeeding promotion.

By 2025, around $3.8 billion is expected to be spent on introducing these changes in the countries that suffer most from maternal, newborn and child mortality.

The authors estimate that this expenditure could prevent around half of all child deaths due to diarrhoea and pneumonia in that time period.

If that expenditure were increased to $6.7 billion - less than a quarter of the estimated cost of the 2012 London Olympics - deaths from diarrhoea could be effectively eliminated and around two thirds of deaths from pneumonia prevented by 2025, they estimate.

Despite persistent burden, childhood deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia are avoidable and these interventions can save most of these avoidable deaths.

Prof Harry CampbellCentre for Population Health Sciences

The research is published to coincide with the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD), a UNICEF and WHO publication that provides a guide for governments and their partners to plan integrated approaches for the prevention and control of pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea and pneumonia remain low on list of worldwide priorities, despite the huge global impact.