Chapter 2 of 16
Six diseases cause 90% of infectious disease deaths
Initiative : Combating childhood
|Most deaths from
infectious diseases - almost 90% - are caused by only a handful of diseases. And most
of them have plagued mankind throughout history, often ravaging populations more
effectively than wars. In an age of vaccines, antibiotics and dramatic scientific
progress, these diseases should have been brought under control. Yet, in developing
countries today they continue to kill at an alarming rate. And at times - as in recent
outbreaks of influenza - they also kill at an alarming rate in the industrialized
No more than six deadly infectious diseases - pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, measles and more recently HIV/AIDS - account for half of all premature deaths, killing mostly children and young adults.
Every three seconds a young child dies - in most cases from an infectious disease. In some countries, one in five children die before their fifth birthday. Every day 3 000 people die from malaria - three out of four of them children. Every year 1.5 million people die from tuberculosis and another eight million are newly infected.
Behind each of these deaths lies a human tragedy. Because these diseases affect mainly young children and adult breadwinners, their impact on families can be catastrophic. Children may lose one or both parents to an infectious disease. The AIDS epidemic alone has left over eight million children orphaned. To make matters worse, families risk being driven into debt through lost earnings and high health care costs - trapping them in a vicious circle of poverty and ill-health.
Diarrhoeal diseases impose a heavy burden on developing countries - accounting for 1.5
billion bouts of illness a year in children under five. The burden is highest in deprived
areas where there is poor sanitation, inadequate hygiene and unsafe drinking water.
To make matters worse, infection with HIV weakens the immune system and can activate latent TB infection. It is also believed to multiply the risk of initial infection with TB. About one-third of all AIDS deaths today are caused by TB.
Malaria can rapidly overwhelm a young child causing high fever, convulsions and breathing difficulties. With the onset of cerebral malaria - an acute form of the disease - the child lapses into a coma and may die within 24 hours.
The high incidence of malaria cases - over 275 million a year globally - can impose a huge economic burden on both families and governments through lost productivity, missed education and high health care costs.
|© World Health Organization 1999
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