Nobel laureate urges help to save children under-5 - GulfToday

Nobel laureate urges help to save children under-5


Experts discuss the issue of high child mortality rate in under-developed countries at the conference.

Imran Mojib, Special Correspondent

A group of eminent personalities including Nobel Laureate Dr Ferid Murad, former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Deputy Director for Ethiopia Dr Solomon Zewdu have called upon the world to come forward and help save children under the age of five in under-developed countries who are killed mostly by entirely preventable diseases.

Speaking at a panel discussion held on the sideline of the 7th International Oncology Conference in Abu Dhabi, which concluded on Saturday (Nov.30,2019), they said that children under-5 are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases like malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, HIV and tuberculosis.

Dr Ferid Murad said that children between five and ten years of age are at the prime. This is the best time to introduce them to subjects like science, mathematics and other subjects. It is a critical time. But many countries have difficulties and don’t have the resources to achieve it.

“You have to start at a young age. There is need to do more in under-developed countries, although they have come a long way in the last 15 years,” he said.

Despite being entirely preventable and treatable, common infectious diseases are still killing young children in large numbers. Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria were responsible for approximately 29 per cent of global deaths among children under the age of 5 in 2018. Children in the world’s poorest regions are disproportionately affected, with infectious diseases particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper recounted the success of Muskoka Initiative under his leadership to improve the health of mothers and children in the world’s most impoverished nations. He expressed gratitude to various governments as well as non-governmental organisations and corporate houses for funding this initiative.

As Chair of the G8, Canada made maternal, newborn and child health a priority for the G8 Muskoka Summit held in June 2010. This initiative was focussed on improving the services and care needed to ensure healthy pregnancies and safe delivery, and placing a particular emphasis on meeting the nutritional needs of pregnant women, mothers, newborns and young children.

“Consequently, child mortality rate has got reduced by 50 percent in those countries,” Harper said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Deputy Director for Ethiopia Dr Solomon Zewdu said that when one discusses about places like Africa, it is not just the challenge of treatment and diagnosis. There are also broader challenges of medical research.

“Despite being one of the most populated continents of the world, Africa spends only 1% of global medical research,” he said.

Talking about developing a self-sustainable independent healthcare system in poor and struggling countries, he said, it is a long way and needs investment, right priority settings designed around the needs of those countries.

“While we continue to make disease-specific intervention to reduce mother-child mortality, neo-natal mortality, infant mortality and to reduce communicable diseases, we also have to think about developing the system. It must be embedded in the fabric of the specific country,” said Dr Solomon Zewdu.

Talking about private healthcare in the region, Founder and Managing Director of VPS Healthcare Dr. Shamsheer Vayalil said that the entire dynamics of healthcare delivery is changing, and it’s changing very fast. The means are increasing, the cost is going up but the values are going down. That’s one of the typical challenges. However, he stressed that the entire private healthcare providers cannot be made responsible for wrong practices as far as health insurance is concerned.

“The moment a patient lands in the hospital, the cost will go high. We need to practice the gatekeeping model. We need to convince people to go to local clinics. That is the first point of treatment,” he said.

As far as high cost of healthcare delivery is concerned, Dr Shamsheer said that adoption of technology will help reduce it. “We are trying to include more technology to reduce the cost. There is room for improvement, we are centralising our medical records, we are looking at data, trying to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI), and to add machine learning.” he said.

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