New report shows large strides in preventing child diarrhea deaths in India in 2019, but COVID-19 pandemic threatens progress

New report shows large strides in preventing child diarrhea deaths in India in 2019, but COVID-19 pandemic threatens progress

Kolkata: Pneumonia and diarrhea kill more young children worldwide than any other infectious disease and India accounts for an estimated 233,240 of these deaths among children under five each year.

For over 10 years, the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has published the annual Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report to track progress fighting childhood pneumonia and diarrhea in the countries with the highest absolute number of deaths among young children.

This year’s report card finds that although overall the world’s health systems are falling short of ensuring that children have access to prevention and treatment services, India made significant progress in ensuring children receive immunizations to protect against diarrhea and pneumonia.

The report tracks progress by analyzing 10 indicators from the latest available data on how countries are delivering key interventions—including breastfeeding, immunization, care-seeking and antibiotics, oral rehydration solution (ORS), and zinc supplementation—shown to prevent pneumonia and diarrhea deaths.

Due in large part to its population, India bears a greater burden of under-five pneumonia and diarrhea deaths than any other country, based on global child mortality data.

  • An estimated 233,240 Indian children under five die due to pneumonia and diarrhea each year, 640 children per day.
  • India’s coverage of rotavirus vaccine increased by 18 percentage points (35% rotavirus coverage in 2018 expanded to 53% in 2019). In 2019, India completed the “100-days agenda”—an unprecedented national scale-up of rotavirus vaccine across the nation. This landmark vaccine expansion will help protect 26 million children born each year against life-threatening cases of rotavirus diarrhea.
  • India’s immunization coverage against pneumococcal pneumonia increased by 9 percentage points (6% PCV coverage in 2018 expanded to 15% in 2019).
  • Of the 15 focus countries included in the report, India is one of just four countries that exceeded targets for exclusive breastfeeding (58% exclusive breastfeeding rate). Exclusive breastfeeding protects young children by making them healthier and less vulnerable to pneumonia and diarrhea.
  • However, nearly every country included in the report lagged in access to treatments against pneumonia and diarrhea. India failed to reach all four targets for treatment, but treatment for diarrhea had the lowest coverage in India; only 51% of children received oral rehydration solution (ORS) and only 20% of children received zinc. ORS and zinc, especially when co-packaged together, are highly effective treatments that are proven to reduce deaths from diarrhea in children.
  • Although there was progress in India in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens these hard-won gains due to disruption of routine health services like immunization and access to medical oxygen, which is used to treat both pneumonia and COVID-19 patients. India has experienced over 8 million coronavirus cases and over 123,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins global COVID-19 dashboard.

“While the world focuses on new innovations in vaccines to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, we cannot afford to lose sight of the millions of children who die from preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea,” said Mathuram Santosham, MD, MPH, IVAC Senior Advisor and Professor in the Department of International Health. These deaths are almost all preventable with vaccines and simple proven treatments that we already have available. India’s hard work to expand rotavirus vaccine highlights the power of committed stakeholders and the success which can be achieved.

Although the efficient rollout of new vaccines improved India’s scores in the 2020 report, global trends find that progress in preventing child morbidity and mortality is lagging behind targets. The window to act was already urgent in 2019, but in the coming year we simply cannot afford to risk decades of progress in reducing childhood mortality.

Support for the report was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Download the 2020 Pneumonia & Diarrhea Progress Report at

About the International Vaccine Access Center: The International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) applies rigorous science to build knowledge and support for the value of vaccines. Based in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a team of over 40 physicians and professors, economists and epidemiologists, researchers and advocates, IVAC provides global technical leadership on over 15 vaccine-preventable diseases. IVAC’s approach utilizes leading-edge science, clear communication, productive partnership, and capacity building. By generating, synthesizing, and using evidence to inform decision-making and action, we accelerate equitable and sustainable access to vaccines globally. Learn more at

The Source of this Story is Press Release ( and has not been edited by The Reporting Today.

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