People in Need
Diarrhea is a life threatening top global health concern, representing 9% of child deaths worldwide, second only to pneumonia. The World Health Organization estimates that globally there are 1.7 billion infectious diarrhea cases annually among children under age five. Roughly three quarters of a million children die each year from diarrhea complications, killing nearly as many children as HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
The health related economic impact of diarrhea globally is well into the tens of billions of dollars annually.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene are Key
It is estimated that nearly 9 out of 10 diarrheal deaths worldwide are due to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hand washing.
- 663 million people do not have safe drinking water
- 2.4 billion lack proper sanitation
- 950 million practice open defecation
Many institutions, (i.e. NGO’s, charitable organizations, and government agencies) are working to improve the availability of safe water, develop and install proper sanitation, and teach good hygiene. Until these issues are fully addressed, infectious diarrhea will continue to be a top global health concern.
Infectious Diarrhea is a Top Global Health Concern for Children
Most children die from diarrhea as a result of severe dehydration. Children who already have impaired immune systems, are malnourished, or live with HIV, are at the greatest risk of dying. Children under five often suffer repeat episodes of infectious diarrhea annually, with each occurrence lasting for several days. In the developing world, children under three years old experience on average three episodes per year. It is important to note, that this condition is not limited to countries in the underdeveloped or developing world. As an example, in the U.S there are approximately 45 million pediatric episodes per year. Before a child even reaches their fifth birthday, they will have anywhere from 7-10 episodes of diarrhea.
Every Diarrhea Episode Deprives a Child of Essential Nutrition Necessary for Growth
A single episode of diarrhea deprives a child of vital nutrients, and repeat occurrences further decrease the amount of food and water a child eats and essential nutrients that are absorbed. Consequently, diarrhea has become a leading cause of malnutrition, and children who are malnourished are more likely to have repeat occurrences of diarrhea.
In addition to malnutrition, multiple episodes of diarrhea can lead to stunting. According to UNICEF, stunting, the disproportionate height for age, can have a lasting impact on a child’s brain development and cognitive capacity. The resulting damage is irreversible, diminishing performance at school as well as future earnings.
Reducing Childhood Mortality is a Worldwide Goal, Targeted for 2015
In September 2000 at the Millennium Summit, 189 United Nations Member States came together and agreed on the United Nations Millennium Declaration (UNMD), to reduce extreme poverty, while setting a series of time-bound targets for 2015, which came to be known as The Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
One of the key MDG’s is to reduce childhood mortality, with the target being to reduce the under five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. As of 2011 the number of under five deaths worldwide has decreased from nearly 12 million in 1990 to less than 7 million in 2011. As discussed above, diarrhea represents 9% of all under five deaths worldwide, and therefore is a significant issue to be addressed.