World Pneumonia Day

Marking the fourth annual World Pneumonia Day, November 12th, world leaders and the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia are calling for major efforts in the fight against childhood pneumonia, which remains the number one killer of children under age five. Pneumonia claimed 1.3 million lives in 2011 alone, and was responsible for nearly one in five global child deaths.

“Pneumonia can be prevented and cured.  Yet, for too long it has been the leading cause of global deaths among children.  We know what to do, and we have made great progress – but we must do more.  We must scale-up proven solutions and ensure they reach every child in need,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spearheads Every Woman Every Child, an umbrella movement that aims to save 16 million lives by 2015.

According to the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia, country leaders and funders must prioritize efforts and investments in proven interventions, including access to vaccines, proper antibiotic treatment, and improved sanitation, as well as the promotion of practices such as exclusive breastfeeding, frequent hand washing, care seeking, and the use of clean cookstoves to reduce indoor air pollution. Several of these interventions also help address the second leading killer of children – diarrhea.

For pneumonia cases that do occur, antibiotics such as amoxicillin are one of the simplest and least expensive methods of treatment. However, antibiotics are administered to less than one third of children with suspected pneumonia, and only a tiny minority receives amoxicillin in the ideal form for small children: a tablet that dissolves in a very small amount of liquid or breast milk. According to the UN Commission on Life-saving Commodities for Women and Children, making amoxicillin available in a dissolvable tablet form to the children most at risk of dying from pneumonia would potentially save 1.56 million children over five years.

With three years left to 2015, accelerated action on child pneumonia is critical to the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 4.  The goal of the new effort is to increase access to the most effective antibiotic treatment for the children most at risk of dying from pneumonia in the ten countries where those deaths are concentrated.  It is consistent with the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP) and the Declaration on Scaling Up Treatment of Diarrhea and Pneumonia endorsed by the Child Survival, Call to Action in June 2012.

GAPP, issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2009, specified that child pneumonia deaths could be reduced by two-thirds if three child health interventions – breastfeeding, vaccination and case management including the provision of appropriate antibiotics – were scaled up to reach 90 percent of the world’s children.