According to UNICEF, just two of the diseases on this list kill 1.4 million children every year. The worst part is that these diseases are completely preventable. What’s the most common reason for most of the children to die from these diseases? They don’t have proper access to healthcare to treat pneumonia or diarrhea – two illnesses that are typically preventable and treatable to families who do have access to quick, quality medical care.
Many other diseases that kill kids all over the world can be prevented, in most cases, through a strict vaccination schedule. Unfortunately, many kids in developing countries don’t get routine vaccinations when their families live in poverty without access to affordable medical care. This article will hopefully bring some awareness to the dire medical crisis in other parts of the world that those in developed countries often take for granted.
No one wants to see their loved ones pass away, especially from a disease that can be prevented. When it’s little babies and children who suffer, the situation becomes even more unbearable. Some of the diseases on this list may surprise readers to know that they still exist and are killing children around the world due to foregoing vaccinations or not being able to get proper medical care from birth.
15 Haemophilus Influenzae Type B
Haemophilus influenzae type b (also known as Hib) is a severe bacterial infection that people first thought was influenza when it started to become widespread in 1892. Although it does cause some of the same symptoms as influenza, like fever, nausea, and vomiting, it can quickly become dangerous, causing throat swelling, bone infection, and meningitis. There is a vaccine for Hib, but according to UNICEF, only about 1 in 5 children receive it during their first year.
In 2015, a Canadian boy named Ethan had both legs amputated due to his severe Hib infection, which he contracted despite being up to date on the shot. According to the CDC, most cases of Hib require hospitalization, and about 1 in 20 who contract meningitis from the infection die. Hib is very contagious and is spread through airborne particles from sneezing or coughing, so the best prevention is vaccination; a case like Ethan’s is incredibly rare.
14 Chicken Pox
Believe it or not, chicken pox can still kill. Babies, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems are the most vulnerable, although some cases in healthy kids become so serious that the virus can still cause death. One little boy named Fabio passed away in 2009, just three weeks after his parents noticed the first three spots on his cheek. A vaccine has been in place in the United States since 1995 for chicken pox, but many other countries aren’t required to give it. Such was the case for Fabio, whose family lived in the UK.
In rare cases, chicken pox can cause severe bacterial infections, sepsis, brain inflammation, and other serious conditions that can lead to death, especially in vulnerable children. Fabio eventually died of multiple organ failure as a result of chicken pox, despite being admitted to the hospital.
13 Severe Diarrhea
You may be surprised to know that the other preventable disease in UNICEF's report is diarrhea. Almost everyone will experience diarrhea in their lifetime, but it can be especially dangerous for young children, especially if they develop a serious bout of it that causes dehydration as well. The CDC says that diarrhea kills over 2,000 children every day in the world and is the 2nd leading cause of death in children under 5.
Of course, there's no way to completely prevent diarrhea because it can come from so many sources. But, having access to safe water and sanitary waste practices (like a properly running toilet and working septic system) can help. Also, proper hygeine practices are especially important for preventing bacteria that causes diarrhea. If your child has diarrhea for to or three days, is refusing to drink fluids, and has a fever of 102 or more. Babies 6 months or younger should see the doctor immediately if they have diarrhea.
12 Whooping Cough
Whooping cough – scientifically, pertussis – is a disease that mostly affects children younger than six, and can be fatal for children and babies. At first, it may seem like your child has a cold, but usually will turn to a more serious cough in a week or two. The cough can be so severe that it causes your child to be unable to catch his or her breath, which is the #1 reason for the disease to turn fatal.
Babies are most at risk because whooping cough can often turn to pneumonia or have seizures that cause brain damage from persistent coughing and loss of oxygen. The vaccine for pertussis is part of the DTaP vaccine that also protects against tetanus and diptheria. According to the CDC, 8000 deaths were caused by the disease in the US each year before the vaccine was in place, and that number has lowered to 20 after the vaccine. WHO estimates that about 100,000 people still die each year worldwide from whooping cough.
The MMR vaccine has also virtually eliminated mumps from our vocabulary, but the cases of mumps have risen since more parents have opted out of getting this vaccine for their kiddos (to be fair, mumps is also not 100% preventable with a vaccine, just like any other vaccine). Many cases of mumps go away on their own within 10 days. But, mumps can cause severe inflammation in the body, including in the testicles, heart, pancreas, and in the brain, causing meningitis. When this happens, death is often a result of the virus.
Mumps is very contagious, so young children are especially vulnerable. But, the most serious cases tend to happen in teenagers and adults, especially males. The current vaccine that’s been on the market since 2005 has reduced mumps cases by 99%, according to the CDC.
Measles is another viral infection that's almost been eliminated in developed countries by the MMR vaccine. But, this highly contagious infection can still kill children in developing countries by the hundreds of thousands each year. According to UNICEF, every minute, one child dies from measles in Africa alone. It's a scary statistic that could be improved if people had proper access to healthcare in these areas.
Measles can severely damage the immune system to the point where a child can't fight any other small disease that may come his way. Some fatal complications of measles include respiratory problems, diarrhea, and pneumonia, and those who survive often suffer from severe brain damage. Most doctors recommend two doses of the MMR vaccine before a child turns 6 for the best protection against measles.
9 Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can be spread to a baby during a pregnancy if his mother already has it. For other kids to get it, they would need to have contact with an infected person’s saliva or blood. It’s easier than it sounds to contract it though – the virus can live on objects (like children’s toys) for up to a week, so anything an infected child puts in his mouth can carry it. There is a vaccination for Hepatitis B, which is recommended by the CDC for all children.
Sometimes, the infection can go away on its own. In other cases, some people may not know they have the virus until later in life, which can cause severe health issues, like liver damage or cancer. Deaths from Hepatitis B are rare, but complications from the virus still pose a fatal threat to many, especially children.
Rubella isn’t an infection people in the United States and other developed countries hear about too often anymore, but it can still happen. Rubella is usually not too serious and often causes an illness that lasts just a few days with a fever and swollen glands. But, pregnant women with rubella may suffer a miscarriage or have a baby with severe birth defects, like mental retardation, deafness, or blindness.
Rubella is very contagious and is passed through the air to kids through coughing and sneezing. Death from rubella is very rare, thanks to the combined MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine. But, severe complications from the infection can still cause death, especially in babies who contract congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) from their moms with the infection. Every year, about 100,000 babies all over the world are born with CRS.
7 Yellow Fever
Yellow fever is typically transmitted by mosquitoes that carry the virus and remains most common in tropical, underdeveloped areas of South America and Africa. A vaccine isn’t given as part of a routine vaccination schedule, but it can be given to anyone traveling to the most affected areas. For those who live in areas with large mosquito populations, it’s important to stay indoors during peak mosquito breeding times (from dusk to dawn), use repellant, and wear long clothing sprayed with repellant.
Some people experience no symptoms from yellow fever, but some infected people may get a toxic form of the virus that causes jaundice, liver or kidney failure, vomiting, and excessive bleeding. If these symptoms occur, the chance of survival is slim. About 30,000 people die every year from yellow fever.
When you hear the word “tetanus” you probably think of a rusty nail, right? Well, it can come from a rusty nail – or any other rusty item – entering the body if it’s been contaminated with tetanus bacteria. But, the bacteria can also be found in soil, manure, and dust. It’s typically spread through an open wound on the skin and can cause lockjaw, stiff muscles and joints, severe muscle spasms, and paralysis. According to UNICEF, tetanus killed about 200,000 newborns in 2001 alone.
Most children in the United States receive a tetanus immunization and boosters in a combined vaccine that also prevents diphtheria and pertussis, known as DTaP. There are typically fewer than 50 diagnosed cases of tetanus in the US every year. But, in underdeveloped countries, this shot isn’t as widely available.
Polio used to be a widespread disease in the mid-20th century, but cases have lowered significantly since the vaccine came into play in the 1950s. Still, those in underdeveloped countries without access to adequate medical care are highly at risk for the infection, which can cause paralysis. Of those affected with the paralytic form of polio, up to 10% die because their respiratory system also becomes paralyzed. According to WHO, most people still affected by polio are children under the age of 5.
Polio is highly contagious, which makes young kids, who don’t have sophisticated hygiene habits, the most vulnerable group. It’s spread through feces, which can be transferred to other children from particles on toys or the floor from unwashed hands. In underdeveloped countries, people often contract the infection from contaminated water supplies.
Malaria is one of the most common killers of children under 5, with about 90% of malaria cases occurring in parts of Africa. This mosquito-borne disease kills over one million people every year. According to the CDC, about 1700 people in the United States get diagnosed with the disease. Most commonly, people get flu-like symptoms from the disease in about 7 to 30 days from an infected mosquito bite. Most cases will last a few days with symptoms until the disease clears. Others can lead to organ failure and death.
People traveling to affected areas of Africa can take certain antimalarial drugs that can prevent the disease from taking hold in the body, although no vaccine is currently in place. People in affected areas should also take care to prevent mosquito bites with repellent, long clothing, and mosquito nets.
Rotavirus is a highly contagious and very common virus that's usually seen in young children, around toddler to preschool age, who don't yet understand good hygiene habits. The virus is transmitted to stools, which can make its way to toys, books, and anything else kids touch. The virus causes severe diarrhea and vomiting which can quickly dehydrate young children. In developing countries, children are extremely vulnerable to rotavirus. According to the CDC, about 1 in every 293 children die from rotavirus, and most are 5 or younger.
Since 2006, a rotavirus vaccine has been in place to prevent this virus. The CDC states: "Most children (about 9 out of 10) who get the vaccine will be protected from severe rotavirus illness. While about 7 out of 10 children will be protected from rotavirus illness."
Diphtheria is a disease that's almost been eradicated from the United States and Europe since the vaccine started being given as part of routine immunization schedules. But, developing countries still feel the effects of the deadly disease, which can spread harmful bacteria through the mouth and throat, swelling the throat enough to cause breathing problems. The bacteria can also give off a toxicity that can spread through the body and cause failure of various organs.
According to the CDC, as many as 20% of children under 5 diagnosed with diphtheria will die from its complications. If caught soon enough, antibiotics can treat diphtheria, but caretakers, parents, and anyone in close contact with the child may also need treatment with antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from becoming toxic in the event that it spread to them.
A 2016 UNICEF report places pneumonia as one of the top two leading curable and preventable diseases that are still killing children – 1.4 million every year, to be exact. According to the report, about 90% of those deaths are children in low to middle-income countries. In 2015, pneumonia alone killed more children under 5 than AIDS, malaria, measles, and tuberculosis together.
Pneumonia has a vaccine, but those in developing countries often don't have access to it, while some families in developed countries opt not to have it. According to the CDC, almost 70% of adults 65 or older have never had the vaccine. But, aside from protection with immunizations, many cases of pneumonia can be prevented by avoiding smoking, keeping household surfaces clean, and using proper hygiene habits. If your child is in daycare, make sure you know what the cleaning practices are and how it helps your child stay safe from contagious diseases.
Sources: ABCActionNews.com, ABCNews.go.com, CDC.gov, DarpanMagazine.com, IDPH.state.il.us, KidsHealth.org, Patient.info, Unicef.org, WHO.int