Early experience with the World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF joint strategy of Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) in three districts in Uganda has shown impressive increases in the ability of health workers to detect the onset of the five greatest killers of children under age five.
IMCI, which advocates the more effective management of childhood illness, along with simple preventive measures, has the ability to reduce significantly the number of children under age five who die every year, a major meeting to review the first experiences of local implementation of the IMCI strategy heard.
At the moment, more than 11 million children under age five die annually but the successful worldwide implementation of IMCI could reduce that number by at least 5 million, WHO said.
More than 70% of the children under five who die, do so from one of only five illnesses: pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition.
The First Global Review and Coordination Meeting on Integrated Management of Childhood illness, held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, from 9 to 12 September, heard in another case study that families taking their children for treatment were substantially more satisfied with the care the children received when they were looked after by IMCI-trained health workers.
Studies have also shown that doctors' current drug usage costs can be reduced by almost 80% using IMCI.
In Santo Domingo, participants from a wide array of multilateral and bilateral aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations and national public health specialists agreed in the meeting's closing "Call for Action" that IMCI" has the potential to significantly improve the quality of child health care, reduce unnecessary hospitalization and to substantially reduce childhood mortality."
For IMCI to be made available to all children of the developing world, it will have to be adopted as part of national health ministries' policies and receive substantially more financial support both nationally and internationally.
The three main goals of IMCI are to train health workers, improve the ability of health systems to deliver quality care, and improve family and community practices in relation to health care, the participants agreed.
IMCI advocates that health workers adopt a holistic approach to examining and treating children so that a child being treated for one illness is also checked and treated for the other major childhood killers.
"The IMCI Strategy could contribute to the implementation of health system reforms as part of a basic package of cost-effective health services," participants said in their Call for Action.
"Investment in IMCI is more than worthwhile when you consider that many of the 11 million children under five who die every year, die needlessly. This meeting has shown that with the better child health care that IMCI offers, we can save many of these children," said Dr Jim Tulloch, Director of WHO's Division of Child Health and Development.
Over 130 people, including health authorities from 26 countries, participated
in the Santo Domingo meeting to review progress with, and make recommendations
for, research, development and implementation related to IMCI.