Over 700,000 Children Die Needlessly Every Year In The Eastern Mediterranean

Over 700,000 babies and children could be saved every year in the Eastern Mediterranean region if countries adopted some simple low cost health measures, say researchers in this week's British Medical Journal.

The Eastern Mediterranean region accounts for 1.4 million deaths among children under 5 every year. Most of these occur in just seven countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, and Yemen) where mortality exceeds 50 for every 1,000 live births.

Yet more than half of these deaths could be prevented if these countries implemented a range of proven, low cost health measures, write Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta and colleagues.

For example, they calculate that promoting breast feeding would prevent 151,000 deaths, while more skilled mother and baby care would avert another 53,000 deaths. Giving oral rehydration therapy (a simple mixture of sugar, salt and water) would prevent a further 65,000 needless deaths.

Many of these interventions could be delivered to whole populations through community based approaches and outreach programmes, say the authors. However, efforts are slow in most countries, and where programmes do exist, evaluation and research are limited.

These data point to an unacceptable persistent burden of child mortality from common disorders in some countries in the region, they write. These deaths are largely preventable and much can be done with existing knowledge and even limited resources.

These existing interventions, as well as the promising new targeted strategies, must be delivered to all those who need them most. This will require concerted efforts by public health policy makers, development agencies, and civic societies to garner resources for child health. Not only must these interventions be based on robust evidence but their implementation in health systems must also be part of a learning process, they conclude.