On #WorldPneumoniaDay 2016, Laura Kerr reminds us how the prevention of one disease can help reduce many preventable child deaths and requires a strong, well functioning health system. 

In 2015, 2,500 young lives were lost every single day because of pneumonia.

It is the number one infectious killer of children under 5 and is responsible for 16% of all under 5 deaths globally. Last year this meant that Pneumonia was responsible for more child deaths than Zika, Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined.

So what does all this have to do with the SDGs?

Ensuring healthy lives for all is at the core of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3. The goal sets out important targets for the reduction of preventable child deaths which will not be achieved without tackling pneumonia. Pneumonia is a great example of how efforts to tackle one disease could have a much wider impact on the general health of a population. Many of the interventions targeted at pneumonia also help control other childhood illnesses, such as diarrhoea and malnutrition, and should be part of a comprehensive approach to child survival. Through efforts to protect, prevent, and treat pneumonia, through an integrated package of interventions, the whole community health system can be improved. This is also what is required to help countries achieve universal health care for all. 

Protect – we can take simple steps to prevent children (and adults too) getting the infection in the first place:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding boost natural defences to infections including pneumonia
  • Adequate nutrition and vitamin A supplements help ensure a well-functioning immune system which lowers risk of diseases, including pneumonia

Prevent – we know how to prevent the infection in the first place

  • Vaccines are one of the most effective, and cost effective interventions in global health. In the last few years a new vaccine (most commonly called the pneumococcal vaccine or PcV) has been introduced into many countries routine immunisation programme which protects against the most common strains of the pneumococcal  bacteria which causes pneumonia,  and protects against  certain strains of septicaemia and meningitis.
  • Access to clean water, soap to wash your hands with, and adequate sanitation can help prevent the spread of deadly bacteria

Treat – being diagnosed correctly and being able to access the correct medicine is essential to stop preventable deaths

  • Trained health workers are needed to diagnose  symptoms which can be mistaken for an everyday, non-life threatening illness such as a fever, cough, or strained breathing. It is important to identify as soon as possible if a child has pneumonia so they can receive the best treatment, often as simple as antibiotics or oxygen
  • Treatment costs are small if a timely and correct diagnosis is made. Dispersible amoxicillin (a common antibiotic) costs between 21 to 42 cents for a full course of treatment. Unfortunately, it can be costly to effectively diagnosis at times as x-rays, blood and other lab tests as often required which are not always available
  • Preventing pneumonia through vaccines means children will not get ill in the first place, leading to the decreased need for antibiotics to be used. This will help with growing concerns around antibiotic resistance to over or misuse of antibiotics.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) drove faster progress than ever before in the rates if child mortality. In the 15 years since the MDGs were launched in 2000, cases of pneumonia have dropped from 1.7 million cases every year to 920,000. That’s a difference of nearly 800,000 children’s lives saved.

World Pneumonia Day is an opportunity to take action on behalf of all the world’s children who still not do have access to the services they need to prevent and treat pneumonia. We must hold all governments accountable to the commitments they made in the SDGs and provide families everywhere with the tools they need to prevent and treat pneumonia and other illnesses if we are to achieve healthy lives for all.

Governments must continue to prioritise child health so that young people can grow up healthy and unlock their full potential.

Check out  www.StopPneumonia.org and #StopPneumonia for more information.