Accurate and timely diagnosis is key

Cost-effective, affordable diagnostic tools that can quickly and accurately identify the children at greatest risk of death from pneumonia, or the source of their infection (viral or bacterial), do not yet exist.

Pneumonia is often diagnosed through the assessment of clinical signs and symptoms, including respiratory rate, and many cases go undetected or are incorrectly classified.

Recent studies from Malawi have shown that only one in five children with pneumonia is correctly diagnosed, and that while healthcare is frequently sought for children who die of suspected pneumonia, lack of drugs, availability of staff, and dysfunctional referral systems lead to multiple delays in care and child deaths.

In some countries, particularly those in Africa, pneumonia is sometimes misdiagnosed as malaria because both diseases present with high fevers in young children.

Newborn Foundation

Pulse oximetry

Pulse oximeters are very effective digital tools that measure oxygen saturation in the blood – a strong predictor of severe illness and pneumonia death – along with heart rate. They give health workers critical patient information to detect children who are severely ill and are therefore a gateway to safe and effective oxygen use. But despite their lifesaving potential, these simple tools are not widely available in health care facilities in low-resource settings.

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Lung ultrasound

There are promising signs that new technologies like lung ultrasound will transform the diagnosis of pneumonia in low-resource settings.  Together with pulse oximetry it dramatically improves the identification of the children at greatest risk of death from pneumonia.