About one in five children around the world dies from pneumonia - more than from measles, malaria and HIV combined. But not many people know that. That's why the World Health Organization is sponsoring the first World Pneumonia Day, Monday, November 2nd.
Pneumonia is a preventable and treatable disease
About 2 million children worldwide die from the disease each year, and Mary Beth Powers, from the non-governmental organization, Save the Children, says, "the sad thing is this is a disease that is largely preventable, and highly treatable. So the reason kids are dying is often because they didn't get vaccinated, they are not properly breast-fed or they [don't get] proper antibiotic treatment for pneumonia." She notes that only one out of five children who has pneumonia receives appropriate medical treatment.
Powers says many of these deaths could be prevented if children were vaccinated. "Bacterial pneumonia happens after you have a viral disease like measles. So vaccination against measles and diphtheria can help prevent pneumonia cases."
And there are two other vaccines specific to microorganisms that cause pneumonia - one against Hemophilus influenza B, called HiB, and the other against pneumococcal bacteria. Many countries don't include these in their regular vaccination programs, but Powers says they're slowly being incorporated.
Early recognition of symptoms is key
Powers says one thing that is happening now is organizations such as hers are training community health workers in many countries to recognize and treat the symptoms of pneumonia. She says they can give a first dose of antibiotics and then refer the child to the nearest clinic or hospital for further treatment.
"It's critical that these
children who have very easy to recognize symptoms, such as rapid
breathing, or what we call chest in-drawing where the chest wall sort
of collapses as the child gasps for breath... an average person can in
fact diagnose that this is not just your average cold. The child is
much sicker, it's presumed pneumonia and the child needs to be
In addition to World Pneumonia Day, leaders from the WHO and UNICEF are releasing a global plan to combat pneumonia. Save the Children's Mary Beth Powers says she hopes increased attention to the disease prompts both donor countries and poorer countries to put more resources towards addressing this urgent issue.