Protecting children from a forgotten but deadly disease: WHO releases global action plan to prevent and treat pneumonia

Copenhagen, 2 November 2009

Pneumonia kills more children under 5 years of age than any other illness in every region of the world. In the European Region, WHO estimates that bacterial pneumonia – caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and Streptococcus pneumoniae – leads to about 19 500 deaths each year.

“Although mortality from bacterial pneumonia is lower in Europe than in other regions, the fact that 99% of these deaths occur in a handful of countries is of great concern. Ensuring that children are well nourished, do not live in poverty and have access to health care is essential in tackling childhood pneumonia,” says Dr Rebecca Martin, Epidemiologist, Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Today, on the first World Pneumonia Day, WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) release the Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP). (1) It is intended to increase awareness of pneumonia as a major cause of child death, calls for scaling up the use of interventions of proven benefit and provides guidance on how this can be done. GAPP provides five key strategies for treating and preventing pneumonia, and protecting children from the disease: case management at all levels, vaccination, prevention and management of Hib infection, improvement of nutrition and reduction of low birth weight, and control of indoor air pollution.

WHO support to Member States

The WHO Regional Office for Europe works with countries on:

  • promoting the inclusion of comprehensive strategies for pneumonia prevention and control in national guidelines for health care delivery;
  • providing guidance to increase the uptake of measles and pertussis vaccination and to accelerate the introduction of Hib and pneumococcal vaccines into national schedules for routine immunization;
  • monitoring the impact of Hib and pneumococcal vaccination in reducing vaccine-preventable pneumonia and related illness; and
  • achieving the goal of eliminating measles and rubella – diseases closely linked to morbidity and mortality from pneumonia – from the European Region by 2010.

Progress by countries in pneumonia control

  • By the end of 2009, 47 of the 53 Member States in the WHO European Region will have introduced Hib vaccination.
  • A regional reference laboratory for invasive bacterial diseases, including pneumonia, has been established in the Russian Federation. It will link with other reference laboratories in the Region, which are supported by the Regional Office.
  • Countries are using surveillance systems to document the burden of pneumococcal disease and monitor the impact of vaccination in reducing the incidence of pneumonia and other invasive bacterial diseases.

For more information contact:

Technical information:

Dr Liudmila Mosina
Technical Officer, New Vaccine Introduction,
Targeted Diseases and Immunization
WHO Regional Office for Europe Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 15 03

Press information:

Ms Liuba Negru
Press and Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44
Fax: +45 39 17 18 80