Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

New WHO/UNICEF action plan to tackle pneumonia

2 November 2009

A comprehensive action plan that can save up to 5.3 million children from dying of pneumonia by 2015 was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on 2 November 2009.

Pneumonia is the biggest cause of child deaths in the world, killing 1.8 million children under five years of age every year, more than 98% of which occur in 68 developing countries. In spite of its huge toll, relatively few resources are dedicated to tackling this child killer.

The Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP) includes recommendations on what needs to be done, specific goals and targets, and estimates of what it will cost and how many lives will be saved. Its aim is to increase awareness of pneumonia as a major cause of child deaths, and it calls on global and national policy-makers, donor agencies and civil society to take immediate action to implement the plan.

"This action plan provides the strategy to prevent and control pneumonia, which today kills more children than any other illness," said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO. "We know the strategy will work, and if it is applied in every high burden country, we will be able to prevent millions of deaths."

“Pneumonia is the leading cause of under age five mortality, killing over 4 000 children every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman. “Effective interventions to reduce deaths caused by pneumonia must be used more widely and made more readily available for children at risk.”

The release of the GAPP strategy coincided with the first Global Pneumonia Summit held in New York City on 2 November.

The GAPP has a three-pronged vision:

  • Protecting every child by providing an environment where they are at low risk of pneumonia (with exclusive breastfeeding for six months, adequate nutrition, preventing low-birth-weight, reducing indoor air pollution, and increasing hand washing);
  • Preventing children from becoming ill with pneumonia (with vaccination against its causes: measles, pertussis, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae b, as well as preventing and treating HIV in children, and providing zinc for children with diarrhoea);
  • Treating children who become ill with pneumonia with the right care and antibiotics (in communities, health centres and hospitals).

The cost of implementing the GAPP by scaling up the recommended measures in the 68 high burden countries is estimated at US$ 39 billion for 2010-2015. The costs are expected to double over the six-year period, rising from an annual need of US$ 3.8 billion in 2010 to US$ 8.0 billion by 2015.

Specific targets and goals to be reached by 2015 under the GAPP strategy are to expand coverage of all relevant vaccines and exclusive breastfeeding rates to 90%, and raise the level of access to appropriate pneumonia case management to 90%. This will lead to a reduction in child pneumonia deaths by 65% and cutting the number of severe pneumonia cases in children by 25%, compared to 2000 levels.