Most Child Deaths And Disabilities Avoidable: Study

While childhood fatality rates are on the decline, the findings of a new study suggest that most child deaths and disabilities are preventable with simple interventions. 

Of the 7.7 million child and adolescent deaths that occurred globally in 2013, more than 80% of those involved children under the age of five. Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle found many of the deaths could have been avoided with safe drinking water, better sanitation practices, improved hygiene and nutrition, and wider vaccine availability.

The findings were published online January 25, in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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Researchers analyzed the data from the Global Burden of Disease 2013 Study, which focused on data from more than 35,000 epidemiological sources to estimate the prevalence of disease and injury worldwide. Data was compiled from vital registrations, autopsy studies, and maternal and child death surveillance from 188 countries.

Children and adolescents make up one-third of the world’s population. The leading cause of deaths for children under five years of age is lower respiratory tract infections, killing more than 900,000 children in 2013, researchers reported.

Older children most often faced death due to diarrheal disease, accounting for more than 38,000 deaths. Among adolescents 10 to 19 years old, road injuries caused the most deaths globally, more than 115,000.

Preterm birth complications, congenital abnormalities and road injuries were the top causes of child or adolescent death in the United States. Congenital abnormalities affected more than 7,000 children in 2013.

Poor, Unstable Countries Had Highest Child Death Rates

Many of these deaths are preventable through prevention techniques and better management of illnesses, reported co-author of the study, Theo Vos. He noted that many of the countries most affected are poor, struggle with unstable government or ineffective healthcare systems.

Half of the worlds diarrheal deaths among children and adolescents occurred in just five countries; India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

India accounted for 33% of the world’s deaths from neonatal encephalopathy, a condition where an infant is deprived of oxygen during birth. Nigeria had 12% of the global share of deaths from lower respiratory tract infections and 38% of the global share of death from malaria.

Iron deficiency anemia was the leading cause of children and adolescents living with a disability, affecting 619 million children globally.

Overall, 27 of the 138 developing countries were able to achieve a target reduction of 4.4 percent reduced mortality rates, annually.

Researchers say higher maternal education can also play a role in decreasing deaths, since educated mothers are more likely to have their children vaccinated or adopt simple interventions such as malaria bed nets.

“Monitoring these trends over time is also key to understanding where interventions are having an impact,” wrote Vos. “Proven interventions exist to prevent or treat the leading causes of unnecessary death and disability among children and adolescents.”


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