Two major aid agency reports published this week say millions of children’s lives are being put at risk because governments and the international aid community are not responding appropriately to diseases such as diarrhoea.
“Diarrhoea kills more children than HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB combined, yet compared to these diseases receives little financing and is not prioritised by governments in donor and developing country governments alike,” said Oliver Cumming, co-author of a report by Water Aid, “Fatal neglect: How health systems are failing to comprehensively address child mortality” [Read the WaterAid press release , 12 May 2009, here]‘.
The report shows that between 2004 and 2006 only $1.5 billion was spent globally on improving sanitation. In the same period, $10.8 billion was spent on interventions for HIV/AIDS – responsible for 315,000 child deaths in that period, and $3.5 billion on interventions for malaria – responsible for 840,000 child deaths.
A health worker in the only government-run clinic in Kibera said diarrhoea was a major problem in the slum, which is home to over one million of Kenya’s poor. [...] “There are a lot of cases of children dying of diarrhoea because the health service in a slum setting such as this is not so well distributed,” added the health worker who asked to remain anonymous.
[...] Another report “Diarrheal Disease: Solutions to Defeat a Global Killer” by health advocacy group PATH, speculates that in the 1970s and 1980s awareness-raising and fund-raising for tackling the problem were so successful that the mortality rate fell by almost 50 percent. It says many donors, governments and aid agencies may have considered the problem solved.
But the issue is far from solved. Water Aid says that when taking into account adult deaths, funding for HIV/AIDS is balanced, but when considering child deaths, the large resources for fighting the disease are disproportionate.
Both reports highlight that relatively cheap fixes can be effective – for example educating people to wash their hands, using water purifiers and disinfectants and taking rehydration salts for diarrhoea. But the aid community is not devoting sufficient funds or attention to the problem, the reports say.
The Kenyan government is working with aid groups to educate the public on good hygiene, improve water chlorination and provide communities with water purifiers and disinfectants. But the financial burden is high, says Kenya’s Health Minister Shahnaaz Sharif. “A lot of donor agencies are not concentrating on diarrhoea and then it is left up to the individual governments to handle those programmes and most governments cannot cope,” Sharif told AlertNet.
The Kibera health worker said she believed some funding for HIV, TB and malaria would do more good if it was diverted to treating diarrhoeal diseases in young children. “If I was offered a wish list, I would say we channel a lot of funds (to) healthcare for children under five with an emphasis on diarrhoea and malnutrition,” she added.
Source: Natasha Elkington, Reuters AlertNet, 14 May 2009
From WaterAid report "Fatal Neglect".