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Global Action for Children

How a Common Cold Becomes Deadly in Developing Countries


Carolyn Miles

President, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children

Why do we need to prioritize tackling common illnesses?

As a mother of three children, this issue is one I can relate to. I remember vividly when my children — who were usually quite healthy — would get fevers or had stomach bugs. While I had access to medical care and the illnesses usually passed quickly, there was still a feeling of helplessness. I would have done anything to help them feel better. It is heartbreaking to know there are millions of parents whose children experience the same illnesses as my children, but because of where they live, they are not able to get their children the care and medicine they need.

Children everywhere get the same illnesses — coughs, colds and stomach bugs. However, seemingly simple illnesses can go untreated, and the consequences can be devastating. In fact, nearly 1 million young lives are lost each year when an untreated illness progresses to severe pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a significant cause of death for children. Isn’t that normally an illness of older people?

More children lose their lives to pneumonia than any other infection. According to the World Health Organization, up to 70 percent of child-pneumonia deaths could be prevented with amoxicillin, an antibiotic that costs only 50 cents per course of treatment. Sadly, this medicine is not widely available or provided in many countries. As a result, children with pneumonia either receive no treatment or they are treated with the wrong antibiotic, which can be ineffective and increase antimicrobial resistance.

Is there a risk in increasing access to antibiotics? Aren’t we trying to reduce antibiotic use?

We are definitely working to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics. However, when children have severe infections, access to antibiotics is necessary and lifesaving. While the overuse of antibiotics may mean increasing resistance and lessening effectiveness, there are countries where lives are lost because antibiotics are simply not available.

We can reduce antibiotic exposure and prevent illness by increasing access to immunization. When rotavirus, Haemophilus type B and pneumococcal vaccines were introduced in the United States years ago, emergency room visits and hospitalizations from severe disease plummeted. We are seeing equally dramatic results in countries where children are gaining access to these needed vaccines. As we continue to reach more children with these vaccines, we’ll be able to prevent children from being sick in the first place. As the saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Staff, [email protected]

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