World Pneumonia Day 12 November 2017: preventable child deaths in the era of sustainable development

On World Pneumonia Day, 12 November 2017, The Union stands with fellow members of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies and joins health advocates around the world to raise awareness of child pneumonia, and to call for greater investment and renewed commitment for child health.

Pneumonia causes more deaths amongst children than any other infectious illness. In 2015 more than 900,000 children under five died of pneumonia, accounting for 16 percent of all deaths in this age group. Yet treatments are low-cost and low-tech, and measures to prevent this acute respiratory infection are simple. Exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life, good ongoing nutrition, immunisation, and removal of environmental hazards, including air polluted by tobacco or biomass fuel smoke are core preventative interventions.

Johns Hopkins University’s new Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report, which is published annually,identifies that just 15 low- and middle-income countries bear the burden for 70 percent of deaths from these childhood diseases. It states that to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3.2 – to end preventable child and newborn deaths by 2030 – smart investment and pioneering ways to address child pneumonia are urgently needed.

New science on childhood pneumonia, in the context of sustainable development, was presented at The Union’s 48th World Conference on Lung Health held in Guadalajara last month. Innovations for diagnosis and care in low-income settings were the focus.

Amongst the abstracts presented were results from a study conducted in Malawi, by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, on cleaner-burning cookstove technology for reducing household air pollution. The results show that this technology did not in fact reduce rates of childhood pneumonia. Researchers suggested that cleaner cookstove programmes did not warrant further investment at this time, but should rather focus on interventions that are already known to be effective.

Oxygen therapy is known to offer a life-saving intervention for people with severe pneumonia, reducing death rates by up to one third. The benefits of oxygen therapy have been known for over 100 years. Yet research conducted by the University of Melbourne – presented in Guadalajara - showed that less than 10 percent of patients in low-resource settings had access to oxygen therapy when they needed it. In many low-income countries oxygen therapy is still only accessible to those who can afford it.

Johns Hopkins University presented an update on the current state of lung ultrasound as a promising diagnostic tool for suspected paediatric pneumonia, especially in low-income settings where x-rays are not reliably available. Findings so far suggest that lung ultrasound may offer a reasonable alternative to chest x-ray – with the added advantages of being without radiation, portable, quick to use and easy to teach.

Such research shows that with increased investment in childhood pneumonia diagnosis and innovations in care provision, almost one million children’s lives can be saved each year.

The Union joins lung health advocates worldwide to call for continued commitment to this vital work.