11 Nov A Fierce Resolve to Save Lives
by Eileen Quinn
Do you remember when the kids in your neighborhood were dying from pneumonia? I can’t say that I do, but I am reading a great novel right now that reminded me it wasn’t that long ago that here in the US, mothers like me lived in fear of their children dying from pneumonia, measles, diphtheria, or whooping cough—diseases that are mostly now, well, history. The book, A Fierce Radiance, takes place at the start of World War II— when the US was racing to translate the healing properties of a particular green mold into safe and effective penicillin. In one moving passage, the protagonist mourns the daughter she lost to sepsis (a blood infection) and mentally goes house to house around her block, naming the other children who died or were permanently disabled from infections now prevented by vaccines.
Perhaps the remarkable progress since then is the reason so few people living in wealthy countries can correctly identify pneumonia and diarrhea as the leading killers of children worldwide. It is literally hard to imagine that illnesses that here are so easily prevented and treated are responsible for almost 8,000 child deaths every day. But in countries with fewer resources, vaccines and affordable, accessible treatment are often out of reach.
So I am grateful to my colleagues working on vaccines for both pneumonia and diarrheal disease, new vaccines that will be safe, effective, and affordable for children everywhere. Especially in the poorest parts of the world, vaccines are one of the most powerful tools for public health. But, it is also why we are passionate about promoting the full spectrum of tools to defeat these diseases. You may have gathered as much from browsing around www.defeatdd.org. For pneumonia, the solutions include affordable antibiotics, clean cook stoves that reduce indoor air pollution, and hand washing to prevent the spread of germs.
This comprehensive approach is exemplified by the Global Coalition Against Childhood Pneumonia whose members are coming together for World Pneumonia Day: November 12. Integrated strategies particularly resonate with us, following on our recent report, Join Up Scale Up: how integration can defeat disease and poverty. One of the most exciting parts of our work is learning about the potential of integrated approaches to prevent, protect, and treat health problems. We were greatly inspired by the success stories featured in the report and we are always on the look-out for more stories about how we can work together to save more lives. (If you have other examples to share, we would love to hear from you.)
If only World Pneumonia Day was the only day that children died from pneumonia. We have more work to do before that great day. In the meantime, it is an important opportunity to focus attention on the daily toll of pneumonia, but also on the many solutions we can use to save lives today and every day.