HANOI, Vietnam – Diarrhea doesn’t make headlines. Nor does pneumonia. AIDS and malaria tend to get most of the attention. Yet even though cheap tools could prevent and cure both diseases, they kill an estimated 3.5 million kids under 5 each a year globally — more than HIV and malaria combined. “They have been neglected, because donor or partnership mechanisms shifted their emphasis to HIV and AIDS and other issues,” said Dr. Tesfaye Shiferaw, a UNICEF official in Africa. “These age-old traditional killers remain with us. The ones dying are the children of the poor.” Global spending on maternal, newborn and child health was about $3.5 billion in 2006, according to a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That same year, nearly $9 billion was devoted to HIV and AIDS, according to UNAIDS.
Pneumonia is the biggest killer of children under 5, claiming more then 2 million lives annually or about 20 percent of all child deaths. AIDS, in contrast, accounts for about 2 percent. If identified early, pneumonia can be treated with inexpensive antibiotics. Yet UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate less than 20 percent of those sickened receive the drugs. A vaccine has been available since 2000 but has not yet reached many children in developing countries. The GAVI Alliance, a global partnership, hopes to introduce it to 42 countries by 2015. Diarrheal diseases, such as cholera and rotavirus, kill 1.5 million kids each year, most under 2 years old. The children die from dehydration, weakened immune systems and malnutrition. Often they get sick from drinking dirty water."