Published: Tuesday 30 November 1999

A handful of infectious diseases are responsible for 90 per cent of the deaths throughout the world, a study of the World Health Organisation (who) said recently. No more than six deadly infectious diseases -- pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, measles and more recently hiv/aids , account for half of all premature deaths, killing mostly children and young adults.

Every three seconds a young child dies, in most cases from an infectious disease. In some countries, one in five children die before their fifth birthday. Every day 3,000 people die from malaria, three out of four of them children. It afflicts nearly 300-500 million people and kills two million of them every year; the proportion of the world's population exposed to the risk of malaria could increase from around 45 per cent to 60 per cent by 2050.

Women are especially vulnerable during pregnancy. They are more likely to die from the disease, suffer miscarriages or give birth to premature, low-weight babies. Malaria can rapidly overwhelm a young child causing high fever, convulsions and breathing difficulties. With the onset of cerebral malaria, an acute form of the disease, the child lapses into a coma and may die within 24 hours. Children may lose one or both parents to an infectious disease. The aids epidemic alone has left over eight million children orphaned. Moreover, acute respiratory infections are responsible for many deaths.

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