By Namrata Kilpady-Mishra
MUMBAI, India, 29 July 2014 - In a landmark step in the fight against diarrhoea, UNICEF and the government of Maharashtra have come together and launched a fortnight-long campaign to prevent the disease that is responsible for the deaths of over 4,700 children (who are below the age of five years) in the state every year.
The campaign titled 'Intensified Diarrhoea Control Fortnight’ (IDCF) is currently underway, being held from July 28 to August 8. Its prime goal is ‘zero child deaths due to childhood diarrhoea’.
Among others, the launch was attended by Principal Secretary of the Public Health Department, Sujata Saunik, and Rajeshwari Chandrasekar, the Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Maharashtra. Addressing the gathering, Ms Chandrasekhar said, “This campaign to fight diarrhoea - the third deadliest killer for children below 5 years– will help to prevent the deaths of thousands of children in the state.
Diarrhoea is more common and severe in children with malnutrition. But repeated diarrhoeal episodes result in weight loss and malnutrition in children who were previously well nourished. It is important to note that almost all child deaths due to diarrhoea can be averted by preventing and treating dehydration. Said Ms. Saunik, “We need to prevent the occurrence and reduce the incidence of diarrheal disease through awareness of simple and cost-effective interventions like the use of toilets, the practices of hand washing and safe drinking water and treating diarrhea using ORS-Zinc.”
As a state, Maharashtra has already achieved the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 that relate to child and maternal death. It has achieved impressive gains in child survival over the last two decades, reporting a consistent decline in the Infant Mortality Rate and the Under-Five Mortality Rate. The prevalence of diarrhoea among under five-year-olds has also declined by 12% during a five-year span. But the disease continues to afflict seven lakh children.
To prevent and control child diarrhoeal deaths, a special campaign is held every year for three months from April to June, the months during which a majority of diarrhoeal deaths occur. The newly-launched Intensified Diarrhoea Control Fortnight has been envisaged to bolster these efforts in 2014. During the first week, the focus is on diarrhoea control activities. In the second week, the focus will shift to infant and young child feeding practices (IYCF). This will coincide with World Breast-Feeding Week.
In a statement released to mark the launch of the campaign, Maharashtra Health Minister Suresh Shetty said, “IDCF will mobilise communities, health personnel and political leaders to prioritise investment for control of diarrhoea. It aims to create awareness about the low-cost diarrhoea treatment- a combination of Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) solution and Zinc tablets.”
Ms. Saunik added, “The State Department of Public Health has made it a priority to bring health outcomes among children to a level equitable with states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India. UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO and other partners are working closely with the Government to help realise this vision.”