Nearly 17,000 young children worldwide die every day from preventable causes. That’s more than 6 million per year, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund report.
While researchers found that every region throughout the world has made gains in lowering child mortality since the 1990s, millions of youngsters under the age of five still succumb to pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria — ailments for which relatively cheap treatments exist.
Authors of the report said newer vaccines and the presence of skilled healthcare workers during childbirth can cut mortality rates in half in some underdeveloped countries. For infants — a subgroup that accounted for 44 percent of deaths of children under the age of five — the authors cited the importance of breastfeeding.
“We’re building momentum in many countries in the poorest parts of the world,” said Dr. Mickey Chopra, UNICEF’s head of global programs. “The challenge is to spread what works. It is very, very easy to prevent those three diseases from killing kids. An antibiotic is 10, 20 cents, and that saves the life basically.”
Getting the newest and most effectiveness vaccines to regions where children make up more than 15 percent of the population may be easier said than done, however. Prices for vaccine packages that treat nearly a dozen diseases increased by more than 2700 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to the Public Library of Science. In that period of time, vaccines against diarrhea and meningitis accounted for nearly 70 percent of the costs.
As a result, children living in third world countries don’t receive immunizations as often as their counterparts in more developed regions. Measles and polio — diseases that wreaked havoc on much of the world in the 20th century — still pose a threat to children in developing countries who don’t receive early vaccination. Youngsters in conflict zones have much more to worry about. The prevalence of these preventable ailments alongside the stress of daily life increase the likelihood of death for many of them.
Some public figures, including Bill Gates, say part of the issue lies in the pharmaceutical industry’s yearning to make a profit rather than ensure that treatments are readily available to third world countries. In 2011, UNICEF Supply Division published 10-year data on prices it paid for vaccines as part of an effort to increase transparency of drug manufactures. The listing showed considerable disparity in prices: Western companies often charged UNICEF twice as much for its medication than Indian and Indonesian companies. As new competitors entered the market, prices did not budge.
In recent years, treatment for the most common preventable ailments have been increasingly made available via the Research&Development system — a model that allows corporate entities to create and test cutting-edge medical products. Critics warn, however, that the FDA’s dependence on fees from drug companies, as outlined in the 1992 Prescription Drug User Fee Act, undermines the approval process for medications. As a result, unapproved, potentially dangerous medication often falls into the hands of poor people.
That means ensuring the survival of children across the world — especially those living in part of sub-Saharan Africa, where the death rate among that group stands at 92 deaths for 1,000 live births — becomes partly a matter of pressuring pharmaceutical companies provide safe, quality medication at affordable prices.
All may not be lost, however. In June, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), an international organization that aims to increase immunization in developing countries, has developed a plan to immunize 300 million children between 2016 and 2020. GAVI’s Immunization Supply Chain Strategy streamlines the delivery of vaccines from manufactures to children in developing countries.
GAVI officials say that the organization hopes to introduce vaccines to children in several developing countries and help leaders create an infrastructure that allows for regular immunizations. “We have a unique opportunity to use innovative approaches to support developing countries to continue to build and strengthen immunization programs that will benefit the children of today as well as generations to come,” Dagfinn Hoybråten, Chair of the GAVI Alliance, said in a press release.