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 killer of children. Since the Forum, COVID-19 has spread rapidly – with almost every country around the world now experiencing confirmed cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a catastrophic impact for vulnerable populations, especially among children, in countries that are already experiencing heavy burdens of pneumonia, as ill-equipped health systems struggle to respond.
The Every Breath Counts Coalition urges global and national health leaders – including the 12 agencies who signed the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All – to coordinate efforts to support countries to protect their vulnerable populations from COVID-19.
Ensuring fast, accurate and affordable diagnosis and treatment will be critical in most countries. Urgent action is also required to increase awareness of pneumonia and improve careseeking behaviour, and to adopt preventive measures such as handwashing and physical distancing.
Every Breath Counts believes pneumonia control is critical to reducing child deaths, to the national achievement of child survival goals, and to protect vulnerable populations from pneumonia epidemics caused by novel pathogens like COVID-19.
We welcome the announcements from the World Bank, Global Fund, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, United Nations and others of new financing initiatives and guidelines. We will continue to urge global and national health leaders to respond to COVID-19 in a manner that strengthens the health systems’ ability to prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia.
This is our chance to reverse decades of under-investment in pneumonia control and protect vulnerable populations from future epidemics.
Q: How to protect maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition services in low- and middle-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Q: How do we prioritize invasive versus less-invasive respiratory therapies in low-resource settings?
Q: How can international actors best support local manufacturing of WHO-recommended COVID-19 technologies, where appropriate and feasible?
Dr Shajib Hossain from the WHO office in Somalia describes how the country has used the WHO's COVID-19 Biomedical Equipment Inventory Tool for designated COVID-19 treatment facilities. The data generated was used to procure oxygen in ways that will strengthen the Somali health system for the long term.
Expansion of "pneumonia-fighting” vaccines* during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond is critical. It will not only reduce the risk of increases in child pneumonia deaths from non-SARS-CoV-2 causes during the pandemic, but will also reduce the risk of adult co-infection with bacterial pneumonia and SARS-CoV-2, taking the pressure off already stressed health systems.
Every Breath Counts calls on leaders to make oxygen central to its Global Coronavirus Response. This could not be more urgent.