Tackling the Number 1 Killer of Children

12 Nov 2013

RESULTS UK Child Survival team commemorates World Pneumonia Day, 12th November 2013. 

Today marks the 5th annual World Pneumonia Day, where the global health community call on leaders to scale-up existing interventions and invest in new technologies to tackle the leading cause of death in children under-five. Pneumonia is an infectious lung disease which kills more children than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It is also one of the most overlooked conditions in global health, receiving relatively little new investments considering the scale of the problem. Last year, pneumonia was responsible for 1.1 million deaths in children, of which 99% of these were in developing countries. In other words pneumonia kills 3,000 children every day.

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“It is utterly unacceptable that the poorest children in the world continue to die from a preventable and treatable condition simply because they are unable to access the care that can save their lives” said Aaron Oxley, Executive Director at RESULTS UK. “The situation is even more tragic because the solutions we have are cheap, simple, proven and highly effective.”

This year World Pneumonia Day is marked by an integrated approach to tackle pneumonia and diarrhoea together. Both diseases share common risk factors, such as poverty, undernutrition and poor environmental conditions, and consequently many of the solutions overlap. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF released the Global Action Plan to Control Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD), to reflect the links between these two diseases and outline how they can be addressed together through a framework of “Prevent, Protect and Treat”. The recommended interventions include effective vaccines, simple treatments and improved household and environmental conditions.

Access to vaccines against the leading causes of pneumonia and diarrhoea are being scaled-up in low-income countries with support of the GAVI Alliance. To date, 34 GAVI-eligible countries have introduced the pneumococcal vaccine, with the aim of reaching 45 low-income countries by 2015. In doing so, it is estimated that this could avert more than 500,000 deaths by 2015.

Unfortunately, vaccines cannot prevent all occurrences of pneumonia and diarrhoea, and without access to appropriate treatments children will continue to die needlessly. Greater efforts are needed to scale-up treatments including amoxicillin for pneumonia, and oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc for diarrhoea. Considering these treatments are cheap, easy to administer and proven to be highly effective, there is no reason why any child should be denied access. However, inappropriate prescribing of medicines, poor guidance for healthcare providers, insufficient financial resources and poor supply and demand of these products has hindered their widespread use in many developing countries. Efforts must also be targeted at the development of new diagnostics and treatment innovations to aid healthcare providers in effectively controlling these diseases.

On this day we call on governments around the world to do more by intensifying political commitment to child survival, adopting recommendations outlined in the GAPPD and increasing investments in pneumonia and diarrhoea to ensure that no child dies from preventable and treatable diseases.

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RESULTS UK is a charity registered as RESULTS Education in England and Wales (1015286), a company limited by guarantee (2761858), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC041481).