When it comes to most infectious diseases, children are among the most vulnerable – largely because their immune systems haven’t fully developed. According to the WHO, nearly 6 million children under the age of five die annually and these infant mortality cases are caused when they contract preventable diseases.
While a range of factors – ranging from poor healthcare infrastructure, lack of vaccines, etc. – are responsible for these high childhood mortality rates, we believe that knowledge is still important. When people know more about diseases and preventive measures, they will be able to protect their families better.
Here are 5 deadly childhood diseases and how to stop them:
Diarrhoea occurs when there is an infection in the intestinal tract often caused by pathogens like the rotavirus and the E. coli bacterium. The infection is often spread through contaminated water or food and can be passed from person to person. Diarrhoea causes severe dehydration, which can lead to death and children are particularly susceptible.
Prevention & Treatment: Improved hygiene is important here, as well as access to clean drinking water. Rehydration with zinc tablets and clean water, salt and sugar (ORT) can treat the disease effectively too
Malaria is a tropical disease caused by the bite from an infected mosquito. Symptoms include high temperature, sweats and chills, headaches, vomiting, muscle pains and diarrhoea.
Prevention & Treatment: Insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) and insecticide sprays play an important role in preventing malaria-related deaths. Children can also be treated with a variety of malaria drugs and for the first time in centuries, a vaccine is in advanced stages of development.
Pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection which makes the air sacs in the lungs inflamed and filled up with fluid. Although pneumonia is potentially fatal in all age groups, it kills more children under five (almost a million every year and 16% of all child deaths). Symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, loss of appetite and chest pain.
Prevention & Treatment: Improved access to ventilated spaces and less polluted environments help a great deal in pneumonia prevention. Pneumococcal vaccines are also quite effective and the disease can easily be treated with antibiotics.
Meningitis is an infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. There is a viral and bacterial strain of the disease, with the latter responsible for the majority of deaths which can occur within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms. These include a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.
Prevention and treatment: The bacterial version can be treated with antibiotics, and vaccines are also available. Meningitis kills rapidly so treatment must start early in infection.
Measles is caused by a virus which is transmitted both through direct contact and through the air. The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, accompanied by a runny nose, a cough, and red and watery eyes, while small white spots may appear inside the cheeks in the initial stage. After several days, a rash appears on the face and upper neck and spreads to the rest of the body. Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease, which tend to be more common in malnourished children, especially those with vitamin A deficiency.
Prevention and treatment
Vaccination is a key preventive measure and it has proven to be highly effective with deaths in the under-fives declining from 120,000 to 74,000 between 2013 and 2015.