WHO and partners call for more attention to pneumonia
Pneumonia kills more children under the age of five than any other disease -- around 1.6 million every year (more than HIV, measles and malaria combined), and more than 98% of these child deaths occur in developing countries. There is very little awareness -- in the general public, but also among policy makers -- that pneumonia causes so many child deaths.
WHO is working hard to change this. One year ago, on the occasion of the first Global Pneumonia Summit, WHO and UNICEF launched the Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of Pneumonia (GAPP), and in May 2010, a World Health Assembly resolution was adopted on the prevention and treatment of pneumonia.
One of the main aims of the GAPP and the related resolution, is to increase awareness among decision-makers and the public about the urgent need to tackle pneumonia in order to achieve the fourth Millennium Development Goal -- to reduce child deaths by two-thirds by 2015.
There are effective solutions. While no single approach can alone solve the problem of pneumonia, a combination of three types of action is needed to effectively protect, prevent, and treat pneumonia in children:
- Actions to protect children from pneumonia include: exclusive breastfeeding (improves a child's nutritional status and boosts immunity); reducing indoor air pollution (in many developing countries, women and children spend a lot of time indoors cooking with open fires and with very little ventilation -- this causes them to breathe in particles that can irritate the lungs and make them more vulnerable to pneumonia); and hand washing (prevents the spread of bacteria that cause pneumonia).
- Actions to prevent pneumonia centre on vaccination against the main causes, like measles, pertussis, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib).
- Actions to treat pneumonia focus on making sure that every sick child has access to the right kind of care (either from a community-based health worker, or in a health facility if the disease is severe) and can get the antibiotics they need to get well.
only half (54%) of the children with pneumonia in developing countries are being taken to a qualified health-care provider; less than one-fifth (19%) receive life-saving antibiotics; and exclusive breastfeeding up to six months is only practised by 22% of mothers.
WHO is working with countries to develop comprehensive national plans to scale-up actions that span the three elements of protecting, preventing and treating pneumonia in children.
If we achieve our target of 90% coverage of the recommended interventions by 2015, we will have been able to prevent more than five million child deaths.