An exciting day in the world of diarrhoea… – Tearfund's Policy Blog

April 12, 2013 by stephaniekgill

Yes that’s right, for those of us ‘special few’ who pride ourselves in working on this subject, today marks the launch of a WHO & UNICEF global plan with the ambitious title ‘Ending Preventable Deaths from Pneumonia and Diarrhoea by 2025 – The integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea’ (or GAPPD as its affectionately called). This launch coincided with a launch of a series of The Lancet on Childhood Pneumonia and Diarrhoea.

Now no blog on the launch of a new report would be complete without some statistics – so here is run down in bullet point form of why this matters (taken from GAPPD and The Lancet)

  • Diarrhoea and Pneumonia are the leading killer diseases of children under five.
  • Together these account for 29% of all deaths in children under 5 – this amounts to 2 million lives each year.
  • In 2010 there were nearly 2 billion episodes of diarrhoea in children under 5 and a 120 million episodes of pneumonia.
  • 72% of deaths by diarrhoea, and 81% of deaths by pneumonia occur in children under the age of 2

What is significant about these illnesses (and what I have expressed many times as beyond belief) is that we know how to prevent children from contracting these in the first place and we know how to treat children and prevent them from dying if they do get it.

The plan lays out the different interventions to do this and what is unique is that it really does emphasise the need for an integrated response across the sectors, policies and programmes. It goes on to ‘provide a roadmap for national governments and their partners to implement integrated approaches’. This is something that Tearfund has been a long-term champion of, especially with calling for the key role of sanitation and hygiene in preventative health to be recognised and not ‘fall through the gaps’ between sectors.

In our report Diarrhoea Dialogues we called for the WHO and UNICEF to ‘encourage the promotion and uptake of their guidelines’ in their previous work on diarrhoea and it is exciting to see this be re-launched together with pneumonia.

We highlighted the role of community health workers as critical for delivering preventative water, sanitation and hygiene messages and it is encouraging to note the plan talks about this too. In addition, we pointed out that when programmes containing behaviour change aspects are implemented (such as community-led-total-sanitation, or work done by community health workers), this should be done in a coordinated way to ensure that households are supported through the long-term process of behaviour change.

While it is promising that this is referred to in the plan, it was highlighted at the launch event today that more needs to be done to look at behaviour change at a community level, especially given the importance of handwashing in preventing both diarrhoea and pneumonia.

The big question of course is ‘will this plan actually make any difference at all?’

In many ways the easy part is done – we have the evidence, we have a plan. There is a key issue of funding to consider – it was stated at the launch today that the cost of saving 95% of diarrhoeal deaths of diarrhoea is around $3 billion (which to put it in perspective is around a quarter of the cost of the Olympics!)

Now I, along with many others, will be waiting to see when and how it will be implemented. We will be waiting to see what difference it makes in communities and whether the proposed ambitious benefits of saving and improving the quality of thousands of young lives comes to fruition.

I for one – certainly hope so.