Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that accounts for 15% of all deaths of children under 5 years old, killing over 880,000 children in 2017. However, it can be averted by immunisation and adequate nutrition. This enormous death toll is needless and preventable. Political uncertainty over the coming period must not stand in the way of the UK’s commitment to the world's most vulnerable and marginalised people.
This year’s World Pneumonia Day (12 November) comes just weeks away from the beginning of a crucial year. 2020 will see the replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) take place in London, in which donors will be required to make renewed financial pledges to Gavi. 2020 will also see the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit which will also require renewed commitments to nutriton. This alignment offers an unparalleled opportunity to reduce the number of people dying from pneumonia and other preventable diseases.
Despite pneumonia being the largest infectuous cause of death in children under the age of five, it is important to acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made on fighting pneumonia, and the vital contribution vaccines introduced by Gavi has made. Vaccines provided by Gavi such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) prevent diseases such as pneumococcal disease, which is the leading the leading cause of pneumonia. By the end of 2017, Gavi had vaccinated more than 143 million children and almost 60 Gavi-supported countries had introduced PCV into their routine immunisation programmes.
Simply put, vaccines work. In Kenya, the introduction of new vaccines has had a profound impact on the incidence of pneumonia. With support from Gavi, the Kenyan government introduced the PCV vaccine into their routine immunisation programmes in 2011. A 2019 publication that examined the impact of this intervention over a five-year period found that the incidence of pneumococcal disease fell by 92% (from 61 cases per 100,000 people to just 3) and the incidence of pneumonia in children that received PCV reduced by 85%.
Gavi’s current cycle of funding, which has already led to the immunisation of 198million children since 2016, is set to end in 2020. Therefore, Gavi will require ambitious pledges from the UK and other leading donors to ensure the alliance is able to deliver on their commitments to immunising an additional 300million children by 2025.
As our recent publication ‘Brick by Brick: Accelerating Progress on Global health’ articulates, health and nutrition are co-dependent issues that must be tackled collectively. Adequate nutrition is essential in the fight against pneumonia, as well as other diseases. Inadequate nutrition can lead to malnutrition which in turn weakens the immune system therefore increasing susceptibility to diseases such as pneumonia. Should a child become ill, malnutrition will worsen the severity of the illness. Tackling pneumonia cannot be done in isolation. Gavi must be replenished but that investment will be undone if nutrition is not also prioritised by donors. The UK must be bold and ambitious in a new nutrition commitment made at the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit 2020 in order to achieve its goals on ending preventable deaths and maximising its investments.
This World Pneumonia Day is a reminder of the opportunities that the UK and other leading donors have to help end preventable deaths in the year ahead. It is imperative that despite any political uncertainty over the next six months the UK makes ambitious investments to both Gavi and nutrition and continues to lead the way towards ending preventable deaths from diseases such as Pneumonia.
We cannot afford to overlook the opportunity that lies ahead.