The Issues

Pneumonia is the world’s largest infectious killer – claiming 2.5 million lives, including 672,000 children, in 2019.

That’s one person dying every 13 seconds.

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children and adults gasping for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. 

It is the very young and the very old who are at greatest risk. Two-thirds of pneumonia deaths are concentrated in a diverse group of 20 low-, middle- and high-income countries representing most regions of the world.

COVID-19 will add 3.6 million to the death toll in 2021, bringing the total number of respiratory infection deaths to more than 6 million. No other infection causes this burden of death.

A “global cause without champions”

Yet, pneumonia remains a neglected disease – a “global cause without champions”. Despite recent gains in reducing child pneumonia mortality, progress in reducing all-age pneumonia deaths has not kept pace with other leading infectious diseases in most countries. Furthermore, the levels of support allocated to pneumonia pale in comparison to other leading infectious killers and relative to pneumonia’s heavy disease burden.

Continued lack of action on pneumonia will prevent many countries from achieving the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) target of less than three child pneumonia deaths per 1,000 live births by 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of less than 25 child death per 1,000 live births by 2030.

Pneumonia is preventable and treatable. A world in which pneumonia deaths are rare in every country is achievable.  But we need to do things differently.

Source: K4 Photoshare




Tackling the risk factors – especially air pollution, child malnutrition and smoking – is key to reducing pneumonia deaths. Pneumonia-fighting vaccines also shield children and adults from some of the deadliest bacterial and viral causes of pneumonia. 

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Timely and accurate diagnostic tests for pneumonia are an urgent priority. Digital tools like pulse oximetry offer a lifeline to those who urgently need oxygen therapy to breathe. 

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Access to quality and affordable treatments is critical – especially oxygen therapy and the appropriate use of antibiotics. Improving careseeking behaviour is also essential in closing pneumonia diagnosis and treatment gaps.

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