What Kills Kids

If you live in an industrialized nation, your child is safe. He or she has access to good medical care and won’t die from diseases that killed children a century ago.

But in the developing world, more than 17,000 children, primarily under the age of 5, die each day from these few fundamental health problems.

What’s killing these children? What causes these problems, and what can be done to prevent these deaths?

Diarrhea: Can be contracted through bacterial contamination of food or water, as well as through some viruses. Kills through dehydration and disruption in vital electrolyte balance. Death can be prevented if afflicted children are kept well-hydrated and nourished through liquids that won’t place stress on an irritated digestive tract.

Pneumonia: Bacterial pneumonias can often be simply treated with amoxicillin. Pneumonia is often secondary to respiratory infections of other kinds, and can be avoided if the primary infection is treated with antibiotics. Respiratory infections that well-nourished western children would throw off in a few days today cause nearly a quarter of the deaths of young children in the developing world.

Malaria: Malaria is spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes. It has become more common since environmental concerns caused governments to stop using DDT, which is the most effective control for these insects. In malaria, death can come from kidney failure, edema in the lungs, or severe anemia.

Malnutrition: In developing countries, malnutrition is responsible for nearly half of all deaths of young children. Improved nutrition, especially through breastfeeding, has the potential to prevent many infectious diseases. Nutrients such as iron and zinc greatly improve a child’s ability to fight off infection.

Measles: Measles is a viral disease which can kill by causing very high fever, or by inviting secondary infections like pneumonia to cause more problems to the child. Simple Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can bring down fever and antibiotics can help the other complications.