Last year, nearly a million children under five around the globe died from pneumonia. Despite a vaccine and antibiotic treatment that makes pneumonia both preventable and easily treated, it kills more children each year than either HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria. It’s unconscionable that children still die in such large numbers from something we can prevent and treat. On Saturday, November 12th, we will observe World Pneumonia Day to raise awareness of this injustice.
Progress has been made in the last decade to combat pneumonia, but much remains to be done. There are some straightforward solutions, and policymakers in high burden and donor countries should work together to make sure these simple solutions are put into place. Working together, we can end child deaths from pneumonia.
Invest in Health Workers
Globally, more than 80 countries do not have enough health workers to meet minimum standards established by the World Health Organization. Prevention and treatment of pneumonia — and every other disease — rests on access to a trained health worker. To improve access, governments must increase domestic financing for health workers, allowing more positions — especially those in under-served areas — to be filled. Additionally, governments should invest in health worker training, beginning with ensuring access to education for all at the primary school level.
Up to 45 percent of child deaths can be linked to undernutrition. Undernutrition makes children weaker and less able to successfully recover from disease, including pneumonia. Governments can improve the nutrition of the nation by investing in nutrition-specific interventions, such as complementary feeding and micronutrient supplementation, to address undernutrition and stunting for at-risk children. Donor governments should increase the amount of funding provided for nutrition initiatives globally. To see ACTION’s recommendations for increased funding for nutrition, check out our Nutrition for Growth Scorecard. Because good nutrition enables healthy growth and a healthy immune system, investments in nutrition reap dividends — in lives saved, in children able to reach their full potential, and in stronger future economic outputs.
Ensure Access to the Pneumococcal Vaccine
Many forms of pneumonia can be prevented through the use of the pneumococcal vaccine. Many high burden countries are increasingly rolling out the pneumococcal vaccine with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — 45 countries had included it in their immunization packages by 2014 — but much more remains to be done to ensure that all children can access immunizations. Policymakers need to ensure that the pneumococcal vaccine is included in routine immunization packages, expand coverage, eliminate out-of-pocket payments, and ensure sustainable financing for immunization programs. Donor countries, too, have a role to play. They must continue to strongly support the work of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as well as maintain or even increase levels of bilateral aid supporting immunization and child health programs.
Roll Out Diagnostics
Pneumonia frequently presents like so many other diseases: a fever, coughing, chills, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. This can look very similar to several other infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, and having accurate tools for diagnosis to distinguish between these diseases is of the utmost importance. Countries must do more to invest in and roll out diagnostic tools like the GeneXpert machine, which swiftly and accurately diagnoses tuberculosis, and rapid malaria test kits, which can correctly diagnose malaria from a drop of blood drawn from a pricked finger. Ruling out other illnesses will allow for stronger and more accurate diagnoses of pneumonia, allowing children to get on the correct treatment.
You, Too, Must Take Action
This World Pneumonia Day, we can all work to improve the health of children around the globe by recognizing pneumonia for what is — one of the world’s most pernicious and neglected killers of children — and by collectively raising our voices to encourage governments to prioritize addressing pneumonia. Working together, we can improve the health and lives of children around the globe.
Share with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram this story of injustice and the simple fact that a preventable and treatable disease is taking the lives of toddlers around the world. Use the hashtag #WorldPneumoniaDay and share widely.