Pneumonia is the most common cause of death among children under 5, but a new study finds that there may be a cheap and easy way to increase kids’ survival: zinc.
Researchers from Makerere University in Uganda conducted a placebo-controlled study of 350 children aged 6 months to 5 years old. All the children were treated with standard antibiotic therapy, but in addition, half were given zinc and half were given a placebo once daily for a week
The results showed that there was no difference between the zinc and placebo groups in the time it took children to recover from pneumonia, but the kids’ rates of survival were markedly affected by zinc. Only 4% of children taking zinc died, compared with 12% of the children on placebo.
This means that an extra 8 out of 100 children could have been saved by taking zinc. The protective effect was even greater in children with HIV. The findings are especially important for Uganda, where zinc deficiency is as high as 70%, the researchers say.
“Zinc is known to bolster the immune system and zinc deficiency is rife all over the developed, and developing, world,” said study author James Tumwine in a statement. “We would only need to give 13 of these children with pneumonia zinc on top of their antibiotics to save one life. This equates to about $4 — a small price to pay.”