Top Global Health Achievements in 2011: Pneumonia Prevention and Treatment

Top Global Health Achievements in 2011: Pneumonia Prevention and Treatment

By Dan Erchick

Karl Hofmann, President and CEO of Population Services International (PSI), recognized ten of 2011’s top global health achievements in a recent article on Huffington Post. The International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) was proud to see that pneumonia made the list at number nine: Investment and action in pneumonia prevention and treatment saves lives. A new report by IVAC showed that great progress is being made to speed vaccines to countries where the pneumonia death toll is highest, despite urgent need to scale up key pneumonia prevention and treatment interventions. Some highlights from IVAC’s Pneumonia Progress Report 2011 are below.


Within the past year alone, 10 of 15 pneumonia high-risk countries have either introduced the newest-generation pneumococcal vaccines, been approved for introduction, or applied to the GAVI Alliance for introduction support. The rollout of this new vaccine is occurring at an unprecedented rate across developing countries, where pneumonia kills more children under 5 years of age than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

But the pneumococcal vaccine is not the only vaccine that prevents pneumonia; three other vaccines: measles, pertussis, and Hib conjugate also prevent infections that can lead to pneumonia. Continued introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine and increased uptake of pertussis and measles vaccines, which have not reached 90% coverage levels in many developing countries, are crucial to preventing pneumonia.


Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life protects infants from pneumonia as well as diarrhea and a host of other infections. Unfortunately, in profiled countries, coverage levels for exclusive breastfeeding only range between 10% and 60%, far below the target level of 90%. Going forward, increasing awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding must remain a priority.

Smoke exposure also increases risk for acute respiratory infections like pneumonia and the nearly 3 billion people who rely on traditional cookstoves and open fires are at risk. Transitioning to clean and efficient cooking solutions will reduce smoke exposure and go a long way towards protecting families from pneumonia.


While public health often prioritizes prevention and protection, treatment also plays an important part in the fight against pneumonia. Like with vaccination, antibiotic coverage is well below target levels. Expansion of community-based management programs and improved access to care are necessary to ensure treatment reaches people when they are sick.

Learn more about other top global health achievements of 2011.

For more information on recent progress and future challenges in pneumonia prevention and treatment see IVAC’s Pneumonia Progress Report 2011.

Dan Erchick is an MPH student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.