Dr Naveen Thacker, president, Asia Pacific Pediatric Association (APPA)
About Author: Dr Naveen Thacker, a well known child specialist of Gandhidham is the president elect of Asia Pacific Pediatric Association (APPA). He was also recently elected as CSO Alternate representative to GAVI Alliance Board, and also as Coordinator of Development of International Pediatric Association (IPA).
It is a sad reality the Indian children are still dying because health services continue to be provided piecemeal and those most at risk are not being reached. Children who are poor, hungry and living in remote areas are most likely to be visited by pneumonia and diarrhea the ‘forgotten killers'. A quick look at the diarrhea figures say that India loses close to 100,000 children to this very manageable and preventive disease.
Globally, diarrhea takes the lives of more than 600,000 children every year. It is one of the lead¬ing killers of children under the age of five worldwide after acute respiratory infections like pneumonia. Sadly, diarrhea continues to be the most common cause of illness and its burden is greatest in developing countries of Africa and Asia.
In the Indian context, severe episodes of diarrhea leave a lasting impact - the specter of malnutrition, which is a factor in stunted growth. Research has consistently shown that if a child is malnour¬ished or regularly ill during the first few years of life, there are consequential negative effects on future cognitive development, education, and productivity.
For a long time now, it has been established that some very small measures can check the loss of life due to diarrheal disease. Nine out of 10 child diarrheal disease deaths could be prevented by interventions available today. It is important to recognize that diarrhea continues to be a ‘silent emergency' and there is a need to raise awareness around diarrheal disease burden and the existence of proven prevention and treatment interventions.
Alongside the recognition that this is an emergency for the country, there is an urgent need to drive demand generation to scale up ORS and zinc for diarrhea treatment. For almost a decade ORS and zinc have been low-cost solutions that have proven to be critical components in diarrhea management. Given the high incidence of the disease in India, it is important to emphasize that more needs to be done to make this more accessible to communities. Creating more awareness about fatalities due to dehydration, need to be generated so that care givers recognize early signs and know exactly what to do.
Proven diarrheal disease prevention methods include improved safe water, sanitation, and hygiene, exclusive breastfeeding, and vaccines preventing rotavirus. When diarrhea does occur, it can be effectively treated with oral rehydration therapy (ORT)/oral rehydration solution (ORS), zinc and other micronutrients along with contin-ued feeding.