A coalition of more than 50 child health organizations from all over the world will observe November 2 as the first World Pneumonia Day.
“We have the tools we need to prevent and treat pneumonia,” says the Global Coalition against Pneumonia in www.worldpnuemoniaday.org. “Nevertheless, two million children under five years of age die from pneumonia each year – more than from AIDS, measles and malaria combined.”
World Pneumonia Day is being observed to ensure that necessary intervention reaches children in the world’s most vulnerable countries.
Every minute, one child dies of pneumonia in India, according to new World Health Organisation (WHO) data published in The Lancet in September 2009. It names two bacteria – Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenza type 2 (Hib) as the leading causes of pneumonia.
India leads the world with 27 percent of the global pneumonia cases, followed by Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“Pneumonia caused by these two bacteria is largely preventable through vaccination,” said Dr Nitin Shah, chairperson of the India chapter of the Asian Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal disease prevention (ASAP). “The awareness levels in India are too low for pneumococcal disease that kills more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.”
He welcomed Indian health ministry’s move to introduce a pentavalent (five-in-one) vaccine which includes Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), one of the two bacteria causing pneumonia and meningitis.
“The government should follow this up with the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) which immunizes children against pneumonia and other diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae,” Dr Shah said. “India cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing child mortality by two-thirds unless we tackle the pneumonia burden (and of course diarrhea burden) in the country.”
Africa and Asia account for the highest numbers of pneumonia cases and deaths. Two African countries, Rwanda and the Gambia, have introduced PCV in their routine immunization schedule with the financial support of GAVI Alliance, a global agency that supports vaccination programmes in developing countries including India. For more information, visit www.worldpneumoniaday.org
Why Does the World Need a World Pneumonia Day?
Pneumonia kills more children than AIDS, measles, and malaria combined, and yet many children do not receive affordable solutions proven to prevent and control pneumonia. A coordinated and concerted global effort will help ensure that pneumonia gets the much needed attention that will lead stakeholders and governments to develop, implement, and monitor comprehensive programs.
In addition, a major obstacle to getting these tools to the children that need them is perception. Many people, especially those in developed countries, simply don’t know that pneumonia kills more children than any other disease. Global health funding and interventions are often allocated and implemented based on the perception of threat.
What Can World Pneumonia Day Accomplish?
By focusing the world’s attention on pneumonia and its solutions, we can ensure that leaders all around the globe know what we have to do to drastically improve child survival and reach Millennium Development Goal #4, a pledge to cut child mortality by 2/3 by 2015. A simple three-pronged solution has the potential to save more than a million children every year: Protect, prevent, and treat. Programs should protect children by promoting exclusive breast feeding for the first six months of life. Vaccination programs in countries where children die of pneumonia should include immunizations that prevent the major causes of pneumonia deaths. Pertussis and measles are already in most national programs. Vaccines against pneumococcus and Hib, should be added as soon as possible.