$6B to eradicate child pneumonia, diarrhea by 2025

A child receives pneumococcal vaccination in Sierra Leone. Photo by: Doune Porter / GAVI /

A total of $6 billion is needed to implement a plan to virtually eliminate child deaths from pneumonia and severe diarrhea by 2025, two U.N. agencies said on Friday.

The 10-year action plan drawn up by the World Health Organization and UNICEF is meant to help not only meet the Millennium Development Goal on child survival, but go beyond it by helping impoverished nations in Africa, South Asia and elsewhere pursue an “integrated strategy” that encompasses better sanitation and newer vaccines.

The plan draws from best practices gathered from major global health groups and suggests designating national working groups for pneumonia and diarrhea prevention and control, involve the private sector and a variety of other stakeholders, and find ways to promote innovation and deliver interventions to those most in need.

Up to 2 million children under 5 die each year from pneumonia and severe diaorrhea, compared with 6.9 million from other causes including malaria, according to WHO and UNICEF.

Both U.N. agencies said that they can reduce the live birth rate from these illnesses to 4 per 1,000 by 2025, from currently 20 per 1,000, and totally eliminate infant mortality from the two diseases 10 years later.

For this “ambitious but achievable” goal to be attainted, WHO and UNICEF will push for 90 percent of children under 5 to have access to antibiotics to treat pneumonia, as well as oral rehydration salts to fight diahrrea. Only about 30 percent of children under 5 can obtain these medicines now, the agencies estimate.

The 10-year plan proposes an “integrated approach” to tackling the problem, beginning with a list of best practices on how to protect children from the diseases that includes:

  • Breastfeeding.

  • Good nutrition.

  • Clean drinking water and sanitation.

  • Reducing indoor air pollution by gradually phasing out cooking with charcoal.

Newer vaccines

The strategy proposes boosting the use of newer vaccines against pneumococcal bacteria, which cause 20 percent of severe pneumonia cases.

As for severe diarrhea, the agencies envision more immunization against rotavirus, which only accounts for 28 percent of cases but half of the deaths.

WHO-UNICEF are asking for $6 billion until 2025, or $600 million a year, to buy the relatively expensive vaccines, produced by pharmaceutical giants such as GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Pfizer.

How will the funds be sourced? The U.N. agencies hope to raise the money through the usual donor channels but also by optimizing networks like that of GAVI, an alliance that finances immunization programs in poor countries.

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About the author

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    Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.