Zinc 'boosts pneumonia recovery'
20 May, 2004
source: BBC News
Young children with severe pneumonia may benefit from taking zinc supplements, a study suggests.
Doctors in Bangladesh say it can help children to recover more quickly from the disease.
Pneumonia kills more children than any other disease, almost all of them in developing countries.
Writing in The Lancet, doctors from the Centre for Health and Population Research said giving children zinc could help save many lives.
Pneumonia often affects children with low birth weight or those whose immune systems are weakened by malnutrition or other diseases. It kills two million children each year.
The cost savings could be substantial - Researchers
As part of this study, 270 infants between the ages of two and 23 months were given either 20mg of zinc per day or a dummy pill in addition to conventional antibiotics.
A course of zinc costs just 15 US cents
They found that children given zinc recovered an average of one day earlier than those who had been given dummy pills. They also left hospital one day earlier, on average.
The doctors believe zinc may speed up recovery by reducing inflammation and lower obstruction in the airway. However, they said further research is needed to find out exactly how it works.
But the doctors said the findings showed that giving children zinc is cost effective.
A course of zinc treatment costs just US$0·15. A one day stay in hospital in Bangladesh costs US$25.
"In view of the high number of children in this age-group hospitalised with severe pneumonia, the cost savings could be substantial," they said.
The United Nations has set a goal to cut child deaths by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Reducing deaths from pneumonia is a key priority.
UNICEF has acknowledged that much more needs to be done if the target is to be met.