A new Global Action Plan launched on Friday by WHO-UNICEF has the potential to save up to two million children every year from deaths caused by pneumonia and diarrhoea, some of the leading global killers of children under the age of five.
The Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea calls for a closer integration of efforts to prevent and treat these two diseases and sets targets to reduce mortality rates and raise levels of children's access to life-saving interventions, said a press release here on Saturday.
"Too often, strategies to tackle pneumonia and diarrhoea run in parallel," says Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at WHO.
"But as countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Pakistan and Tanzania are already showing, it makes good health sense and good economic sense to integrate those strategies more closely."
Developed countries have demonstrated that good nutrition and a clean environment help protect children from both pneumonia and diarrhoea.
New vaccines are being introduced to protect children from these diseases. Good access to health services and the right medicines can ensure that they get the treatment they need.
But many existing efforts to address pneumonia and diarrhoea in low-and middle-income countries have yet to capitalise on these common elements.
"This is a question of equity. Poor children in low-income countries are most at risk of death from pneumonia or diarrhoea but much less likely to get the interventions they need," said Dr Mickey Chopra, global head of UNICEF's health programmes.
"We know what to do. If, in the 75 countries with the highest death rates, we apply to the entire population the same coverage of essential interventions enjoyed by the richest 20 percent of households, we can prevent the deaths of two million children even as soon as 2015."
"The new WHO/UNICEF Action Plan sets clear goals for the world to achieve by 2025: a 75% reduction in incidences of severe pneumonia and diarrhoea from 2010 levels among children under five, and the virtual elimination of deaths from both diseases in the same age group."
It also aims for a 40% reduction in the global number of children under five who are stunted.
The Action Plan's targets are significantly higher than current levels.
It calls for 90% of all children to have access to antibiotics for pneumonia and oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea, up from current levels of 31% and 35% respectively.
As an interim target, at least half of all children under six months should be exclusively breastfed, against 2012 levels of 39%.
All children should have access to improved sanitation and safe drinking water, from 63% to 89% respectively. The good progress already made in some countries in introducing new vaccines against pneumococcal bacteria and rotavirus, the Plan aims for 90% coverage by the target date.
The Action Plan calls on governments and other stakeholders to prioritize investment in the population groups with the poorest access to services to prevent and treat pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Nearly 90% of pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths in children currently occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The Action Plan comes at a time when the global community has strengthened its commitment towards the health MDGs, including towards reducing child mortality.