Every year, two million children die of pneumonia, the
world’s leading infectious child killer . The disease claims
another young life every 15 seconds;
more than measles, malaria and AIDS combined ; yet many
clinicians, health workers and policy makers remain unaware of the
scale of this preventable epidemic. The New York Times recently
dubbed pneumonia the “orphan of global health.”
The first World Pneumonia Day; launched by a coalition
of child health organizations, including the Sabin Vaccine
Institute’s Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE); to
raise awareness of this public health crisis and spur urgent action
to address it takes place on November 2nd 2009. Pneumonia deaths in
children are largely unnecessary and an example of a sizeable health
inequity because more than 2,000 children in developing countries die
for every one child that dies of the disease in an industrialized
country . As
such, it is critical that as doctors and scientists we lend our
voices and networks to the fight.
While early diagnosis and treatment can save lives,
vaccines are the single most effective way to prevent pneumonia.
There are safe, effective vaccines against the common bacterial
causes of pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae
type b (Hib) and pneumococcus. The routine use of these vaccines has
had great success in preventing deaths in many countries. It is a
tragedy that access to these life-saving vaccines remains an outcome
determined by where a child is born, not whether a child needs it.
And the same is true for treatment: some 600,000
children’s lives could be saved each year if all youngsters with
pneumonia were properly diagnosed and treated with antibiotics
costing less than US per course .
More than double; an estimated 1.3 million lives; could be saved each
year if both prevention and treatment interventions were implemented
Affordable vaccines are available to developing
countries through new mechanisms such as the pneumococcal Advanced
Market Commitment (AMC) (see www.vaccineamc.org).
The concept behind the AMC is simple: wealthy donors commit to buying
the vaccines in bulk at a fixed price, thereby creating a potentially
huge and profitable early market as an incentive to manufacturers. In
turn, as part of these agreements, the manufacturers may agree to
supply the vaccines to poor countries at a significant discount. In
this way, these countries are able to receive the vaccines up to 20
years before historical precedent and at prices their governments can
Controlling pneumonia is key to Millennium Development
Goal #4, a pledge by the world’s governments to reduce the
under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. To
make progress, we must raise awareness of the scale of this disease
among policy makers, the health community and the general public.
There is no reason this scourge must claim innocent
lives forever. World Pneumonia Day affords us all an opportunity to
join together to do what is right for the world’s most vulnerable.
Together, and through our professional organizations, practices and
health agencies, we have the resources to end pneumonia’s grim
reign as the # 1 killer of the world’s children.
To learn more, visit www.worldpneumoniaday.
org or www.sabin.org/PACE.
On behalf of Pneumococcal
Awareness Council of
Member of PACE
National Institute of Public
Health, Prague, Czech Republic
1 UNICEF. Progress for Children A World Fit for Children Statistical Review (2007). [Online]. Available: http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_42117.html
2 UNICEF. Pneumonia: The Forgotten Killer of Children (2006). [Online]. Available at: http://www.unicef.org/ publications/index_35626.html.
3 UNICEF. Progress for Children: A World Fit for Children Statistical Review (2007). [Online]. Available: http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_42117.html.
4 Bryce, J. et al., ‘Can the World Afford to Save the Lives of 6 Million Children Each Year?’, The Lancet, vol. 365, 2005, pp. 2193-3300; Jones, G., et al., ‘How Many Child Deaths Can We Prevent This Year?’ The Lancet, vol. 362, 2003, pp. 65-71.
5 UNICEF. Progress for Children: A World Fit for Children Statistical Review (2007). [Online]. Available: http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_42117.html.