Diarrhoeal disease is the second-leading killer of children around the world. For too long its overwhelming burden has been overshadowed by other health problems and preventing and treating diarrhoeal disease has been a low priority. But every day, this deadly disease claims the lives of 4,000 children—that’s about 1.6 million children under the age of five every year.
Children in developing countries are hit hardest. In Malawi alone, diarrhoeal disease is responsible for 18 percent of child deaths under the age of five. Many of these deaths are preventable with proven interventions that are available now.
Perhaps the most encouraging news is that now, more than ever, the global health community is positioned to tackle diarrhoeal disease. What is needed is an integrated approach that includes cost-effective solutions like at home water treatments and oral rehydration therapy, and access to new medical technologies like vaccines preventing rotavirus, the most common and lethal cause of diarrhoeal disease.
Strengthening advocacy, increasing awareness, and improving access to lifesaving interventions in countries where the disease burden is the greatest will save the lives of millions of children.
Recently, I spoke at the annual Commonwealth Association of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Conference on Diarrhoea and Malnutrition, held in Blantyre. This was a very important audience because these health experts are on the front lines against diarrhoeal disease. The collaborative efforts of PATH and our Enhanced Diarrhoeal Disease Control Initiative are bringing more attention to diarrhoeal disease. So there is good momentum in Malawi, but much more needs to be done and we must work together.
In June, an exciting and an important step was taken when World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization recommended that available rotavirus vaccine should be included in every country’s national immunization program. Right now, the GAVI Alliance, a global health partnership made up of private-sector philanthropists, donor governments, vaccine manufacturers, and research institutions aimed at increasing and accelerating access to vaccines, is looking forward to a future where children in poor countries of Africa and Asia have access to these lifesaving vaccines.
Diarrhoeal disease does not have to claim so many lives. Together, we can reverse its destructive path, give children around the world a chance at life, and help families and communities thrive.
A recent report from PATH has more information on diarrhoeal disease and prevention methods. You can also find more information about our work at www.path.org.