Call for day to unite against pneumonia
Child health groups have united with Save the Children Artist Ambassadors Gwyneth Paltrow and Hugh Laurie to establish an annual World Pneumonia Day on November 2, 2009. The day will mobilise efforts to fight a neglected disease that kills more than two million children under the age of five each year worldwide.
Many people are unaware of pneumonia's overwhelming death toll. Pneumonia has been overshadowed as a priority on the global health agenda, and rarely receives coverage in news media. World Pneumonia Day will help bring this health crisis to the public's attention and will encourage policy makers and grass roots organisers alike to combat the disease.
Pneumonia kills more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. UNICEF and WHO estimate that pneumonia accounts for nearly 1 out of 5 deaths in children under five years old.
"It's easy to forget that around the world, pneumonia is still killing more than 5500 kids every day," said Dr. Orin Levine, a pneumonia expert and associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Pneumonia is both common and extremely serious, but with existing tools like vaccines and antibiotics, we can save more than a million children every year."
Dr. Levine underscored that the policy makers must know that pneumonia is common, serious, preventable, and treatable since often they have not placed the priority on pneumonia control and prevention that it deserves.
In addition to killing more than two million children a year, pneumonia causes severe financial difficulties and emotional burden for families and communities and contributes to the cycle of poverty. Few caregivers can recognise pneumonia symptoms. Consequently, less than one third of children suffering from pneumonia receive antibiotics, which are available for less than US$1.
"We have what it takes to prevent and cure childhood pneumonia. Yet the disease tragically claims more than two million babies and toddlers every year," said actress and Save the Children Artist Ambassador Gwyneth Paltrow. "We can stand on the sides and continue to watch this tragedy unfold or we can step in and change the ending. World Pneumonia Day gives everyone the chance to act."
Preventing pneumonia is critical to reducing deaths. "Research shows that a package of health measures provided globally, especially to the poorest communities, could dramatically cut childhood deaths from pneumonia" said Dr. Robert E. Black, Chairman of Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dr. Black said that reducing child death from pneumonia requires multifaceted approach like prompt treatment facilities at community level, skilled health workers, introduction of vaccine, improving the nutrition status of children etc.
Vaccines against two of pneumonia's common bacterial causes, Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae type B) and pneumococcus, have prevented many deaths in industrialised countries.
Other proven, low-cost techniques include exclusive breast feeding for six months, ensuring good nutrition, reducing indoor air pollution, using antibiotics, washing hands, and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Additionally, many children do not get the care they need, making education of parents and health providers a priority so they better understand the necessity of preventative measures. Health workers must be trained to diagnose pneumonia and must be equipped with a steady supply of quality antibiotics for treatment.
Fighting pneumonia is a critical strategy for countries working to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which include a goal to reduce under-5 child deaths by two-thirds from the 1990 level.
"We have been fooled too long ignoring this disease. Children dying of pneumonia may be living in poor countries but these are not lesser lives. We must do all we can to take care of all children," said Lance Laifer, founder of Hedge Funds vs. Malaria & Pneumonia. "Our complacency ends today. We won't let millions of children gasping their last breath go unnoticed by the world."
Samir K. Saha, Head of the department of Microbiology at Dhaka Shishu Hospital, Bangladesh said, "Let's take an oath to convince others to work for a noble cause and save the children irrespective of their race, colour and religion."
"We should invest more in combating pneumonia; it is not the crisis of money, it is how we look to address the issue ..." he added.