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Although it bears the time-honored name of the “old man’s friend” –with its attendant suggestion of bringing an end to suffering – pneumonia is also a stone-cold killer of children throughout the non-industrialized world.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , pneumonia causes approximately 14% of all deaths in children 1 month to 5 years of age.
“Most children who die from pneumonia live in developing countries, where such factors as malnutrition, crowding, and lack of access to quality health care increase the risk for death,” the CDC reports. “Pneumonia kills few children in industrialized countries, although it remains among the top 10 causes of deaths in the United States, for example, because of deaths in older adults.”
On November 12, 2013, the world will recognize World Pneumonia Day. Caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses, pneumonia leads to more deaths than any other infectious disease. It is a critical disease for countries to conquer in order to reach Millennium Development Goal 4: reducing the child mortality rate by two thirds from 1990 to 2015.
First launched in 2009 by a coalition of global health leaders, World Pneumonia Day aims to raise awareness about pneumonia’s toll on the world’s children and to promote interventions to protect against, treat, and prevent the disease. Fortunately, many interventions are now available to reduce deaths due to pneumonia among children throughout the world, the CDC notes. On the first World Pneumonia Day in 2009, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, together with many global experts and partners, launched the Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP). GAPP recommends a strategy of prevention, protection, and treatment that is designed to implement readily available interventions that can reduce pneumonia deaths in children. GAPP focuses on improving nutrition (through measures such as exclusive breastfeeding), increasing access to vaccines that protect from agents that cause pneumonia (such as Haemphilus influenzae type b and pneumococcal vaccines), reducing exposure to indoor air pollution, and increasing access to antimicrobial drugs that can treat pneumonia.
In 2010, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the role of pneumonia as the leading cause of deaths in children, setting out the goal of reducing pneumonia deaths as a global health priority, and the World Health Organization began tracking implementation of GAPP. One notable area of success has been the introduction of new vaccines to prevent pneumonia. During the last few years, because of funding and technical support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and various partners, the introduction of new vaccines in developing countries has had unprecedented momentum. Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccines have been introduced or are ready to be introduced in all countries eligible for Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations funding by 2013, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are expected to be introduced in 54 countries by 2015, the CDC reports.
“Despite recent progress in the effort to decrease the number of pneumonia cases, pneumonia is still an urgent problem,” the CDC emphasizes.