Global health organizations urge governments to fight pneumonia

Nearly 100 leading global health organizations from around the world joined forces to recognize the first World Pneumonia Day on Nov. 2 and urge governments to take steps to fight pneumonia, the world’s leading killer of children.

The first steps in this fight are outlined in the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia, released Nov. 2 by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

“It surprises most people to learn that pneumonia kills more children than any other disease — taking more than 2 million young lives annually,” write former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Save the Children Board member Bill Frist and co-author Dr. Richard Sezibera, Rwanda’s minister of health, in this week’s edition of The Lancet. “Nearly half of these deaths could be prevented with existing vaccines and the vast majority of cases could be treated with inexpensive antibiotics. Yet, lives continue to be lost from this preventable and treatable disease, and, until recently, there was very little outcry.”

Pneumonia takes the lives of more children under 5 than measles, malaria, and AIDS combined. The disease takes the life of one child every 15 seconds, and accounts for 20 percent of all deaths of children under 5 worldwide.

While pneumonia affects children and families everywhere, it has the most deadly impact in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where 98 percent of pneumonia deaths occur.

Safe and effective vaccines exist to provide protection against the primary causes of pneumonia, Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcal disease) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). However, use of Hib vaccine has only recently expanded to low-income countries and pneumococcal vaccine is not yet included in national immunization programs in the developing world, where children bear the highest risk for pneumonia and where most pneumonia-related child deaths occur.