Giving young children in developing countries a weekly dose of zinc can substantially reduce
their risk of illness and death, according to a study published online today (Tuesday
August 23, 2005) by The Lancet.
From 2000 to 2003, pneumonia caused 2 million of 10·6 million deaths among children
younger than 5 years worldwide. Diarrhoea causes a further 1·9 million deaths in this group
annually. Daily regimens of zinc have been reported to prevent acute lower respiratory tract
infection and diarrhoea, and reduce child mortality.
Abdullah Brooks (International Centre for Diarrhoea Disease Research, Dhaka, Bangladesh)
and colleagues looked at whether giving children zinc weekly could prevent clinical
pneumonia* and diarrhoea in children younger than two years. Between April 1999 and
August 2000 the investigators recruited 1621 children aged 2–12 months from Kamalapur,
Bangladesh. Half the children were assigned to a weekly 70 mg dose of zinc and half to
placebo. The investigators found mortality was reduced by 85% in the group assigned zinc.
Children younger than 12 months in this group also had less pneumonia and diarrhoea than
those on placebo.
Dr Brooks states: “Zinc substantially reduced the incidence of pneumonia and other upper
and lower respiratory tract disease, and modestly reduced that of diarrhoea. However, the
effect of zinc on mortality was strong . . . Zinc might be progressively protective against more
invasive and severe disease, leading to an 85% reduction in overall mortality, primarily owing
Dr W Abdullah Brooks, Programme of Infectious Diseases & Vaccine Sciences, Health Systems Infectious
Diseases Division, ICDDRB Centre for Health & Population Research, GPO Box 128, Mohakhali,
Dhaka 1000, Bangladesh. Author in the US until August 27 contact T) +1 518 945 3071;
Mobile: 443 722 5511.