Hesperian Health Guides

Protecting children's health

In this chapter:

In children, sicknesses often become serious very quickly. An illness that takes days or weeks to severely harm or kill an adult can kill a small child in hours. So it is important to notice early signs of sickness and attend to them right away.

Diarrhea (loose or watery stools) is more common and more dangerous in babies and small children than it is in adults. If your baby or small child gets diarrhea, act quickly and:

  • keep giving breast milk—often.
  • keep giving food.
  • give lots of liquids to drink.

Rehydration drink helps prevent or treat dehydration, especially
if the baby or child has severe watery diarrhea:

There are 3 important ways to help children grow up to be healthy and protect them against many sicknesses:

  • Nutritious food
  • Cleanliness
  • Immunizations

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Nutritious food

It is important that children eat the most nutritious food they can get, so they grow well and do not get sick. Above all, children should get enough to eat—several times a day.

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Children are more likely to be healthy if they and their homes are kept clean. Here are some guidelines:

  • Wash children and change their clothes often.
  • Teach children to always wash their hands when they get up in the morning, after they pass stool, and before they eat or handle food.
  • Teach children how to use latrines or toilets.
  • Where hookworm exists, do not let children go barefoot; use sandals or shoes.
  • Teach children to brush their teeth every day and do not give them a lot of sweets or carbonated drinks.
  • Cut fingernails very short.
  • Do not let children who are sick or have sores, scabies, lice or ringworm sleep with other children or share clothes or towels.
  • Treat children quickly for scabies, ringworm, intestinal worms, and other infections that spread easily from child to child.
  • Do not let children put dirty things in their mouths, or let dogs, cats or other animals lick their faces.
  • Keep pigs, dogs, and chickens out of the house.
  • Use only clean, boiled, or filtered water for drinking. This is especially important for babies.
  • To protect babies and children from malaria, if possible, have them sleep under mosquito netting or bed nets that have been treated with insecticide.

Immunizations (vaccinations)

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Vaccines give simple, sure protection against many dangerous diseases. If health workers do not give immunizations in your community, take your children to the nearest health center to be immunized. It is better to take them for immunizations while they are healthy, than to take them for treatment when they are sick or dying. Immunizations are usually given free. (Different countries use different schedules.) The most important vaccines for children are:

Immunization When given Note
for diphtheria,
whooping cough (pertussis), and tetanus
Given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 18 months. In some countries one more injection is given when a child is between 4 and 6 years old.
(infantile paralysis)
In some countries 1 dose is given at birth, and 3 more doses are given at the same time as the DPT injections. In other countries the first 3 doses are given at the same time as the DPT injections, the 4th dose between 12 and 18 months of age, and a 5th dose at 4 years old.
for tuberculosis
At birth or anytime afterward.
MEASLES 1 injection no younger than 9 months, and often a second injection at 15 months or older. In many countries, a ‘3 in 1’ vaccine called MMR (measles, mumps and rubella—German measles) is given between 12 and 15 months, and a second injection between 4 and 6 years
(Hepatitis B)
3 injections are usually given at the same time as DPT. In some countries the injections are given at birth, 2 months, and 6 months.
for Haemophilus influenza type b, which is a germ that causes meningitis and pneumonia in young children
3 injections given together with the first 3 DPT injections.
Td or TT
(Tetanus toxoid), for tetanus (lockjaw) for adults and children over 12 years old
1 injection every 10 years. In some countries this is done between 9 and 11 years (5 years after the last DPT vaccination), and then every 10 years. Pregnant women should be immunized during each pregnancy so their babies will be protected against tetanus of the newborn.

Immunize your children on time. Be sure they get the complete series of each vaccine they need.

This page was updated:30 Nov 2023