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Expanding Disease Control: Including Older Children and Adolescents

A recent study emphasizes the need for global efforts to prioritize older children and adolescents in the battle against infectious diseases, as the burden of such diseases has shifted onto this demographic. According to the study published in The Lancet journal, three million children and adolescents succumb to infectious diseases annually, equating to one death every 10 seconds. India, Nigeria, and Pakistan carry the highest disease burden in this regard. Expanding Disease Control: Including Older Children and Adolescents.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has observed a successful reduction in the mortality and morbidity rates among young children, with a 10% decline in infectious disease burden between 1990 and 2019. Led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the research reveals that the focus of infectious disease control has predominantly been on children under the age of five, while insufficient attention has been given to individuals between the ages of five and 24.

Shifting the Focus: Prioritizing Disease Control for Older Children and Adolescents

The study, conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US, indicates that infectious diseases are responsible for over half of all deaths in low to middle-income countries, in contrast to 6% in high-income countries. Surprisingly, 650,000 children and adolescents aged five and above lost their lives to communicable diseases in 2019, accounting for one-third of total child mortality.

Expanding Disease Control: Including Older Children and Adolescents

Published in The Lancet, the study underscores the fact that three million children and adolescents die from infectious diseases each year, equivalent to one death every 10 seconds. Recognizing this shift in disease burden, the study calls for increased attention and global efforts directed towards older children and adolescents. Professor Peter Azzopardi, deputy director of the institute’s center for adolescent health, advocates for a greater focus on the age group ranging from five to 24 years.

Broadening Disease Control Efforts: Addressing Infectious Diseases in Older Children and Adolescents

Diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria contribute to two-thirds of infectious diseases and fatalities among children and adolescents. Among older adolescents, HIV and tuberculosis are the leading causes of death. The study attributes the shift in disease burden to older children and adolescents to significant infection control measures targeting those under the age of five in low-income countries, combined with slower progress made in the older age groups.

Professor Azzopardi highlighted the misconception that older children and adolescents are generally healthy and not burdened by illness to the same extent as younger children. The study reveals that infectious diseases continue to exert a considerable toll on this age group. The shift in disease burden from young children to older children and adolescents is primarily driven by the extensive infection control efforts in low-income countries targeting those under five, coupled with slower progress in the older age groups.

Rethinking Disease Prevention: Targeting Beyond the Under-5 Age Group

Given the impact of recent epidemics such as COVID-19, Zika virus, Ebola, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, the research has significant implications for global policy, financing, resource allocation, and health systems, as emphasized by Professor Peter Azzopardi of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. “This study truly demonstrates that older children and adolescents still bear a significant burden of communicable diseases, and over time, this burden has shifted,” he stated.

In 1990, children under the age of five accounted for 85% of the infectious disease burden, whereas this percentage decreased to 75% by 2019. This highlights the urgent need to reassess infectious disease control strategies. Diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria continue to be the primary infectious diseases leading to death among individuals aged five to 24.

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