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Times of India
14 June 2010
By Prithvjit Mitra
Kolkata, India

 Nutrition WorryEarlier, pneumonia and diarrhoea cases were mostly reported from slums. But this trend has changed over the past two years and children from well-to-do families are falling prey to both diseases now. The mortality rate has shot up as well
Pneumonia and diarrhoea account for an alarming 5% of children who die under the age of five in Kolkata. The number has risen sharply in the last two years and could reach 8% by 2012, according to a survey by paediatricians based on a WHO report. It reveals that though the two killer ailments were more frequent among the underprivileged, it was rising among affluent families as well. Resistance to antibiotics and nutrition deficiency have been identified as the two major reasons behind this spurt. “Earlier, pneumonia and diarrhoea cases would be largely restricted to slums and those parts of the city with poor hygiene. It has changed over the past two years and now we often get children from well–todo families suffering from these. Mortality rate among these children have shot up as well. This is a worrying trend for it points to poor nutrition and drug resistance,”said Shantanu Ray, paediatrician. A WHO study published last month says that in India, 2 million children under five years die of various diseases of which pneumonia kills around 190,000 children or 10%. Regionally, UP, MP, Bihar and Rajasthan account for more than 50% of these deaths. Even though Bengal’s share hasn’t been specified, experts believe it could be as high as 15%.

Pneumonia and diarrhoea prove fatal when they strike children below the age of two. Those between one and oneand–half are considered the most vulnerable. “This year has been particularly bad in Kolkata. Hundreds of children in the age group have been afflicted with the diseases. The most common trigger was low nutrition, which, surprisingly was found to be the cause for the diseases among children of affluent parents as well. Antibiotic resistance has further complicated the situation and was responsible for deaths in many cases,”said Debashish Basu, preventive medicine specialist. Pneumonia vaccines are not fool–proof and have a success rate of about 80%.

The WHO study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, was done by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore for the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Of the 8.795 million child deaths in 2008, 68%, or 5.97 million, were caused by infectious illness, the study reported. Pneumonia (18 %), diarrhoea (15%) and malaria (8%) were the biggest killers.

Almost half of the child deaths worldwide occurred in only five countries: China, Nigeria, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan. At least 41% (3.6 million) of the deaths occurred in the first 27 days after birth.

Experts are now compiling data and planning a study on the reasons that could have led to the spurt. “Lack of proper nutrition seems to be the trigger among affluent children. A preliminary screening shows that a many are gaining weight very slowly, reducing their resistance levels and eventually making them fall prey to the diseases. It’ll be interesting to know why this nutrition deficiency is happening,”said Ray.

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