03 Apr COVID-19 and The Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia
Letter to Forum participants
Against the backdrop of the emerging coronavirus, 350 representatives from more than 55 countries met in Barcelona in January at the first Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia to discuss strategies to control pneumonia, the leading infectious cause of child death in most low and middle-income countries. Thank you for participating in this historic convening.
In the weeks following the Global Forum, a viral pneumonia pandemic caused by a coronavirus has spread rapidly with almost every country now experiencing confirmed COVID-19 cases according to WHO. We are extremely concerned that as the virus spreads into countries that are already experiencing heavy burdens of pneumonia, vulnerable populations will be hit hard as ill-equipped health systems struggle to respond.
As we discussed at the Global Forum, pneumonia already kills an estimated 2.6 million people each year, including 809,000 children under five, making it the leading infectious cause of death in the world. Most of these deaths are in low and middle income countries in Africa and South Asia where malnutrition, exposure to air pollution, low vaccine coverage, low rates of care seeking and lack of access to fast, accurate and affordable diagnosis and treatment at all levels of the health system keep mortality high. Decades of underinvestment in pneumonia at global and national levels have contributed to these problems.
In these countries, COVID-19 will have catastrophic results for vulnerable populations and urgent action is required to improve the awareness of pneumonia, adoption of preventive measures (hand washing, physical distancing, isolation etc), and care seeking. Ensuring access to fast, accurate and affordable diagnosis and treatment, including with the various tools and technologies recommended by WHO in the COVID-19 disease commodity package (e.g. diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment, pulse oximeters, oxygen concentrators, ventilators, laryngoscopes, endotracheal tubes, resuscitators etc), will be critical. It is also vital that there is minimal disruption to existing health services and the WHO recommends continued administration of vaccines among children including the pneumonia-fighting vaccines (DTP, Hib, pneumococcal and measles).
We were pleased to see the World Bank, the Global Fund, Gavi and Unitaid announce new financing initiatives and guidelines to help eligible low and middle-income country governments respond to the pandemic, and we have written to all country directors of UNICEF and Save the Children offices to mobilize their support for national COVID-19 responses. We will continue to advocate for more support for vulnerable populations.
In accordance with the Declaration that was endorsed at the Global Forum, we are committed to making sure that national COVID-19 responses address the underlying gaps in pneumonia prevention, diagnosis and treatment that exist all levels of the health system. It is critical that new investments in COVID-19 prevention and control deliver lasting benefits for health systems and contribute to ongoing efforts to reduce all-cause pneumonia in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and reduce the risk of future pneumonia pandemics.
We call on each and every one of you to play a part in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and to minimizing its impact in your countries. We stand ready to respond to requests from your governments to support national COVID-19 response efforts and strengthen the ability of health systems to control pneumonia over the long term.
Chief of Health
Save the Children UK