Pneumonia – a preventable disease – kills more children than any other infection. Pneumonia claimed the lives of more than 800,000 children under the age of five last year, or one child every 39 seconds, according to a new analysis.
Most deaths occurred among children under the age of two, and almost 153,000 within the first month of life.
Sounding the alarm about this forgotten epidemic, six leading health and children’s organisations launched an appeal for global action.
In January the group will host world leaders at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Spain.
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid.
More children under the age of five died from the disease in 2018 than from any other. 437,000 children under five died due to diarrhoea and 272,000 to malaria.
Children with immune systems weakened by other infections like HIV or by malnutrition, and those living in areas with high levels of air pollution and unsafe water, are at far greater risk.
The disease can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics if properly diagnosed.
But tens of millions of children are still going unvaccinated – and one in three with symptoms do not receive essential medical care.
Children with severe cases of pneumonia may also require oxygen treatment, which is rarely available in the poorest countries to the children who need it.
In Bangladesh, pneumonia claimed the lives of more than 12,000 children under five, which is more than 1 child every hour. 13 percent of child deaths were due to pneumonia in 2018.
The under-five mortality rate in 2019 is 40 per 1000 live births. Inequality, poverty and lack of access to health services contributes to 49 deaths per 1000 live births among the poorest households compared with just 28 deaths per 1000 live births amongst the richest households in 2019.
Although Bangladesh has over 97% PVC3, DTP3 and Hib3 coverage among 1-year-olds, the country spends just $6 per person on health care in 2016, far below the $86 minimum level recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said, “The fact that this preventable, treatable and easily diagnosed disease is still the world’s biggest killer of young children is frankly shocking. We have made strong progress over the last decade, with millions of children in the world’s poorest countries now receiving the lifesaving pneumococcal vaccine. Thanks largely to Gavi’s support, pneumococcal vaccine coverage in low-income countries is now higher than the global average, but we still have work to do to ensure every child has access to this lifesaver.”
Funding available to tackle pneumonia lags far behind other diseases. Only 3% of current global infectious disease research spending is allocated to pneumonia, despite the disease causing 15% of deaths in children under the age of five.
In a joint call to action, the organisations urged: Governments in the worst-affected countries to develop and implement Pneumonia Control Strategies to reduce child pneumonia deaths; and to improve access to primary health care as part of a wider strategy for universal health coverage; Richer countries, international donors and private sector companies to boost immunisation coverage by reducing the cost of key vaccines and ensuring the successful replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and to increase funding for research and innovation to tackle pneumonia.