November 12, 2012, New York – On World Pneumonia Day, the United Nations Secretary-General’s global movement to advance the health of women and children, Every Woman Every Child, has joined forces with the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia to draw attention to the critical importance of reducing child pneumonia deaths to the achievement of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4.

In 2011, a staggering 1.3 million young children died from pneumonia, making it the leading killer of children under five years of age. Almost all deaths occur in the developing world, with six out of every ten child deaths in just six countries – India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia. With all countries striving to achieve the two-thirds reduction in child mortality required to achieve MDG4 by 2015, action on pneumonia is critical to success.

Investments in preventing, treating, and protecting children against pneumonia have contributed to significant declines in child mortality over the last decade, but there is more to be done.  We must continue to scale up pneumonia interventions that we know will save children’s lives, including:

  • Universal coverage of vaccines that target the leading causes of pneumonia (i.e. pneumococcal and Hib vaccines);
  • Education to raise family awareness of the signs, symptoms and dangers of pneumonia and increase care-seeking for sick children;
  • Community case management of pneumonia, including increased access to the most effective antibiotic for children with pneumonia, amoxicillin, in dispersible tablet form;
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life;
  • Promotion of frequent hand washing with soap; and
  • Use of clean cook stoves to reduce indoor air pollution.

If 90% of the world’s children received just three of these interventions – vaccines, case management, and breast feeding – child pneumonia deaths could be reduced by two-thirds by 2015 according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia.  Increased access to amoxicillin alone could potentially save 1.56 million children over five years, according to the recent report by the United Nations Commission on Lifesaving Commodities for Women and Children.

A key ingredient of success is reaching the largest numbers of children most at risk of death from pneumonia – children living in families with very low incomes, often in rural areas and far from the reach of formal health services.  By focusing on children in the poorest households many more lives can be saved.

Reaching these children will require new models of service delivery including public-private partnerships that bring together many stakeholders who are able to coordinate implementation of the interventions listed above in the target countries.  For example, more children’s lives will be saved if pneumonia diagnosis and treatment is more integrated with the delivery of vaccines, with the rollout of Rapid Diagnostic Tests for malaria and with diarrhea prevention and treatment.

In recognition of the 4th annual World Pneumonia Day on November 12, we call on country leaders to prioritize efforts and investments to reduce the number of child pneumonia deaths by 1) supporting and implementing the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia 2) supporting and implementing the recommendations of the UN Commodities Commission and 3) investing in new models of service delivery that better integrate programs targeting the leading killers of children under five.

With three years to 2015, accelerated action on child pneumonia is critical to the achievement of MDG 4.  Pneumonia is one of global health’s most solvable problems.  We have safe, effective and affordable tools to help children and we can win the fight against pneumonia.

Date Sources: Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, Progress Report, UNICEF, 2012; Pneumonia and Diarrhea. Tackling the Deadliest Diseases for the World’s Poorest Children, UNICEF, 2012; Priority Life-saving Medicines for Women and Children, WHO, 2012.