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International Children's Day: Improving health of children is a global priority

International Children's Day. Picture: MI PHAM/ Unsplash

International Children's Day. Picture: MI PHAM/ Unsplash

Published Jun 1, 2023


Improving the health of children is a global priority, and on International Children's Day, it is important to remember the ongoing challenges that children face, particularly in developing countries.

Despite being entirely preventable and treatable, common infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria continue to claim the lives of young children in large numbers.

In fact, in 2019, diarrhoea alone was responsible for approximately 480 000 deaths among children under the age of five, accounting for 9% of all deaths in this age group, according to UNICEF’s Childhood diseases report.

While progress has been made in reducing child deaths from diarrhoea, it remains a leading killer of young children.

Children in the world's poorest regions are disproportionately affected, with infectious diseases particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Improving access to clean water and education on hygiene and nutrition is critical to reducing the incidence of diarrhoea and other infectious diseases. Sanofi's partnership with Save the Children to impact over 2 million lives by 2025 is a step towards ensuring that no child dies of a preventable disease.

Momeena Omarjee, Consumer Healthcare Country head: Scientific Affairs, at Sanofi South Africa said: “Good gut health is key to overall health at every age and stage of life and needs to be maintained, not just when taking a course of antibiotics. A daily probiotic may significantly affect the make-up of the gut microbiome and positively impact many areas of health, and is a good way to boost you and your loved ones’ resilience to diseases.”

Many facets of modern life can affect the gut microbiome, including high-stress levels, too little sleep, eating a Western diet high in processed foods and sugar, and taking antibiotics.

According to the National Library of Medicine study on malnutrition and gut microbiota in children, malnutrition continues to threaten the lives of millions across the world, with children being hardest hit.

Although inadequate access to food and infectious disease are the primary causes of childhood malnutrition, the gut microbiota may also contribute.

“It is widely understood that the gut microbiota of children is influenced by diet, which, in turn, can impact a child's nutritional status. Additionally, diarrhoea, a major contributor to malnutrition, is induced by pathogenic elements of the gut microbiota. Diarrhoea leads to malabsorption of essential nutrients and reduced energy availability, resulting in weight loss, which can lead to malnutrition,” the study pointed out.

The signs and symptoms of a gut imbalance in kids

Many parents believe that their children's tummy aches and other visible digestive problems are caused by gut disorders. However, it can manifest in several symptoms. If your child has at least a couple of these symptoms, it’s a hint that their gut needs some attention.

Digestive symptoms linked to a gut imbalance in kids include:

  • Tummy pain
  • Constipation
  • Reflux
  • Loose bowels
  • Excess wind
  • Toileting accidents (this is often a sign of constipation)
  • Fussy or picky eating – particularly those with a preference for starchy, bland and sugary foods
  • Appetite issues such as lack of appetite or a tendency to overeat
  • Irregular bowels (alternating between constipation and diarrhoea)
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities
  • Offensive-smelling bowel movements/wind

Some of the mental health system symptoms and conditions linked to a gut imbalance include:

  • Mood imbalances such as anxiety, depression and mood swings
  • Ongoing behavioural challenges
  • Learning and concentration issues
  • Sleep issues such as waking throughout the night, bed wetting and trouble falling asleep.

International Children’s Day is an appropriate time to flag the plight that some children in South Africa are faced with.

“Children living in poverty-stricken environments are approximately 10 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than their more privileged counterparts. Providing adequate access to clean, drinkable water and quality early childcare and development will impact the lives and health of so many vulnerable children,” said Omarjee.