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Over 3 lakh children in India die annually due to diarrhoea-related diseases

A study conducted to find out the causes of diarrhoea in young children found that the rotavirus is responsible for the most severe cases. The study was conducted in seven different sites in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asian countries including India. The Global Enteric Multicenter Study (GEMS), published in Lancet, shows diarrhoeal disease, which kills one in every ten child during first five years of their life has the highest rate of incidence in India. The WHO estimates that diarrhoea induced by the rotavirus kills between 90,000 and 153,000 in India every year. According to WHO, around 2.3 million children below the age of five in India annually and of this 334,000 are due to diarrhoea-related diseases.

Other similar scenarios can be found in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan in Asia and Kenya, Mali, Mozambique and Gambia in Africa. Each site provided a censused population, using a demographic surveillance system (DSS) in which field workers visited each household to record births, deaths and migrations two to four times every year, supplemented by weekly updates of births and deaths in children 0-59 months. In fact, the study showed that deaths due to diarrhoea in India s site were at least twice as high as the numbers from the next highest region. The rotavirus alone was responsible for moderate-to-severe diarrhoea (MSD) for one out of every four infants each year.

The publication of this data comes a day before the Department of Biotechnology announces the results of phase three studies in India for a low-cost, locally made rotavirus vaccine that s likely to be launched by 2014. GEMS data reveals important information that can inform evidence-based diarrhoeal disease prevention and control strategies in our country. Rapidly expanding accesses to existing tools, such as oral rehydration salts against the top disease-causing pathogens is essential. In particular, access to rotavirus vaccines is critical to controlling the burden of moderate-to-severe diarrhea (MSD) in India, given the exceptionally high incidence of rotavirus-induced MSD across all age groups, said another research scientist.

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Why are so many children dying of diarrhoea?

A large percentage of deaths occurring today due to diarrhoea are mostly observed in children under the age of 5 years, and this is mostly due to improper sanitation (open defecation remains a big problem in rural areas). Another major reason is drinking contaminated water. India accounts for 29 percent of all the first-day deaths globally, the highest for any country, according to the State of the World s Mothers report released by Save the Children on May 6th 2013. This dismal rank puts a question mark over claims made by the Union government in regard to have taken concrete steps to improve child mortality in the country.

Our basic health parameters like Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) and Infant Mortality rate are the worst in the world, even worse than extremely poor nations in Sub-Saharan Africa where governments are virtually non-existent. The economic and political situation is not similar in India and despite being one of the world s fastest growing economies we are unable to improve the healthcare situation in the country with the gap between the haves and have-nots increasing day by day. Most of our healthcare woes could be vanquished if we as a nation simply worked together for it. Health issues need to transcend petty politics if we as a nation hope to progress and get rid of the problems ailing our healthcare system.

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