NEW YORK (November 12, 2012) — Monday, November 12 marks the fourth World Pneumonia Day. UNICEF is calling for a greater effort to eradicate the disease, which is the biggest killer of children under five years old.
“We can’t have the reductions in child mortality that we envisage without a concentrated, direct attack on the biggest enemy that children face,” said UNICEF Chief of Health Dr. Mickey Chopra.
Pneumonia killed 1.3 million children in 2011. Yet, the disease is easily and cheaply prevented.
A recent report by the United Nations Commission on Lifesaving Commodities for Women and Children, which is led by UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund, estimates that 1.56 million lives can be saved in five years by increasing the availability of the antibiotic amoxicillin, which costs about $0.30 per dose.
Handwashing with soap and water reduces the incidence of pneumonia by 23%, but is not routinely practiced in most developing countries, especially among the poor.
Worldwide, vaccination coverage for pneumonia is at about 85%, yet the poorest often miss out. And unsanitary, overcrowded living conditions and lack of knowledge of how to protect themselves increase their vulnerability.
“Governments have to take the threat of pneumonia seriously and provide adequate vaccines, diagnostic services, treatment and healthcare, especially among the poorest, or this scourge will continue to rob the world of its children at the rate of almost 3,400 per day. This is unacceptable,” Dr. Chopra said.
“The failure to tackle pneumonia is a double failure. Not only are we allowing a treatable and preventable disease to wipe out over a million children a year, we are leaving to its mercy the very people who need help the most—the poorest of the poor," he said.
“UNICEF has calculated that effective action could reduce the numbers of deaths from pneumonia to a level of 20 per thousand,” said Dr. Chopra.
“Within a lifetime, we could have a world in which the chances of a child surviving pneumonia are the same in Niger or Ethiopia as they are in New York,” he added.
Started in 2009, the Global Coalition against Childhood Pneumonia provides leadership for World Pneumonia Day. The coalition comprises more than 140 NGOs, academic institutions, government agencies and foundations.
This year it is hoped that World Pneumonia Day will build on the momentum of A Promise Renewed, a global movement for child survival that began in June.