Treating pneumonia not only takes a heavy emotional toll on the family, but it also can cause serious financial difficulties for families and communities, contributing to the cycle of poverty. The costs of illness may include the medical bills, non-medical direct costs (e.g., transportation to a health facility), and the loss of work days and income. Pneumonia not only impacts the individual child, but also siblings who may no longer be able to attend school while their parents are tending to a sick child. Plus, treatment may be inadequate to averting the devastating long-term consequences of the illness.
That’s why it’s critical to promote a set of health practices—no one intervention is enough—to avoid pneumonia in the first place. Especially for children without reliable access to health care and treatment. Protection with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions, exclusive breastfeeding, adequate nutrition, and reducing indoor air pollution has been far-reaching with widespread impact.
Behavior change and education, nevertheless, have proven difficult in high-burden communities. And the reality is these protective measures alone may be insufficient to addressing some of the most severe disease. Learn more about how to Prevent pneumonia.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions are key to preventing the spread of pneumonia and other illnesses. In high-risk communities where handwashing programs have been implemented, the number of pneumonia cases among under-5 kids was halved. Investing in this simple intervention for the most vulnerable children has potential to make a big impact. The UN recognizes that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation are human rights, essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.
Even though 1.8 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world remained off track for the sanitation target of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Looking forward to 2030, targets for the Sustainable Development Goals include achieving universal access to clean water and access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all.
Exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life is a key component of strengthening an infant’s immune system. Infants who are exclusively breastfed have a lower risk of infection and severe disease than those who lack this important source of antibodies from the mother. Research has shown that it can lead to a 23% reduction in pneumonia incidence. Infants between the ages of 0-5 months who aren’t breastfed at all face enormous risk of dying from pneumonia; they’re 15 times more likely to die from this respiratory illness than infants who are exclusively breastfed.
Adequate nutrition helps to ensure a well-functioning immune system to protect children from pneumonia, as well as other illnesses. Children who are undernourished face a higher risk of disease, increased duration of illness, and greater chance of death from disease. Without access to enough macronutrients like protein, fats, and carbohydrates, and micronutrients like zinc and vitamin A, children are more susceptible to pneumonia and are not strong enough to fight off the disease. In fact, children who are well-nourished have a lower risk of losing their lives to pneumonia.
Reducing air pollution reduces the risk of severe pneumonia in children. Indoor air pollution, which kills about half a million under-5 children each year, may come from many different sources, including cigarette smoking and the burning of biofuels for cooking and home heating. It’s possible to reduce severe pneumonia by using improved cookstoves that reduce household air pollution. Benefits of reducing pollution extend well beyond health and can help contribute to gender equality, economic growth, and addressing climate change.