Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children

World Pneumonia Day, 12 November

Pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide. Every year, it kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five years, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under five years old worldwide. Pneumonia affects children and families everywhere, but is most prevalent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Children can be protected from pneumonia, it can be prevented with simple interventions, and treated with low-cost, low-tech medication and care.

Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. The lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli, which fill with air when a healthy person breathes. When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake.

WHO's response

In 2009, WHO and UNICEF launched the Global action plan for the prevention and control of pneumonia (GAPP). The aim is to accelerate pneumonia control with a combination of interventions to protect, prevent, and treat pneumonia in children with actions to:

  • protect children from pneumonia include promoting exclusive breastfeeding and hand washing, and reducing indoor air pollution;
  • prevent pneumonia with vaccinations;
  • treat pneumonia are focused 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 and oxygen they need to get well.