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World Pneumonia Day

Pneumo Fighter

Pneumo Fighter

Today is World Pneumonia Day

Here’s a few fast facts:

1. Pneumonia kills more children under the age of five than any other disease, claiming a young life every 20 seconds.

2. For every child that dies from pneumonia in the industrialized world, 2000 more die in developing countries.

3. Pneumonia is one of global health’s most solvable problems.

4. More than one million young lives could be saved annually with universal access to vaccines and antibiotics.

One of the most outspoken advocates for the fight against pneumonia is a fellow I know fairly well, Dr. Orin Levine. In this column for the Huffington Post, Orin says he sees the glimmer of a movement building against this massive but too-often-neglected killer disease:

Just over a year ago, together with a small group of colleagues, we launched the first World Pneumonia Day. It was just a spark of an idea — and most of what happened on that day was driven by the efforts of the original coalition members. Today, this effort has truly gone global — and much of the effort is coming from committed individuals and institutions that we had never heard of prior to their involvement.

And here’s a good blog post for ONE by Leith Greenslade, director of a coalition of organizations pushing for expansion of childrens’ immunizations worldwide called the GAVI Campaign to Immunize Every Child.

I talked with Leith a few days ago. She’s outraged that millions of children are still dying from diseases that are easy to prevent and treat — and said the fact that nearly three million children die every year worldwide from pneumonia and diarrheal disease is “the biggest scandal in global health today.”

You can read Leith’s blog on ONE about Pneumo Day, but here’s some of her broader thoughts:

Global health is like a juggernaut.  It is very hard to turn around if it gets set on the wrong course.  Yet when it comes to the health of the world’s most vulnerable children – this is basically what has to be done if we want to save children’s lives on the scale required to achieve global health goals.  We need to turn the juggernaut around and set it on a path towards a new goal – fighting the leading killers of children.

If you don’t work in global health you might be surprised to learn that fighting the leading killers of children has not been a global priority.  You might also be surprise to learn exactly what the leading killers of children are – two diseases – pneumonia and diarrhea.  These two kill more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.  They cause 1.5 million children to die every year and account for a massive 33% of all under 5 deaths.  And yet they attract less than 5% of global health funding.

To add insult to injury we have very cost effective vaccines, antibiotics and other treatments that can both prevent and treat the leading causes of pneumonia and diarrhea.

So, Leith asks, why haven’t we done it? Basically, she believes it’s because the global health community is splintered into multiple interest groups that “compete over scarce donor dollars rather than collaborate to introduce these interventions in the countries where most children are dying.”

What’s needed, Leith says, is a more coherent and comprehensive approach to global health — perhaps a single funding organization. This is an idea that has been growing in popularity, but is not without some serious challenges and resistance. See my earlier post on the notion of a Global Health Fund.

In the meantime, as Orin notes, we may have to just settle for a movement.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.