Tuesday, April 7, 2009

World Pneumonia Day Declared

A few weeks ago on News Talk Online on Paltalk.com we talked about pneumonia, the greatest killer by illness of children under the age of five world wide. And lamented that there was no day designated for the world to focus on this treatable and, to large measure, avoidable killer.

That's now changing. Today, Save The Children is announcing that the first World Pneumonia Day will be held on November 2, 2009. On that day, efforts will be mobilized to enlighten the world about pneumonia, which claims a life every 15 seconds.

Many people are unaware of this overwhelming death toll. Pneumonia has been overshadowed as a priority on the global health agenda and rarely receives coverage in news media. Organizers hope that World Pneumonia Day will help bring this health crisis to the public’s attention and will encourage policy makers and grass roots organizers alike to combat the disease.

“Pneumonia is the world’s number one killer of children. But with new vaccines, early diagnosis and proper treatment with antibiotics that cost less than a dollar, a child’s health can improve and lives can be saved,” said Charles MacCormack, president and CEO of Save the Children.

Pneumonia kills more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. UNICEF and WHO estimate that pneumonia accounts for nearly 1 out of 5 deaths in children under five years old. For each child who dies from pneumonia in an industrialized country, more than 2,000 children die from pneumonia in developing countries.

“In wealthier countries, we don’t often see life-threatening child pneumonia. It’s easy to forget that around the world, pneumonia is still killing more than 5500 kids every day,” said Dr. Orin Levine, a pneumonia expert and associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Pneumonia is both common and extremely serious, but with existing tools like vaccines and antibiotics, we can save more than a million children every year.”

Pneumonia also causes severe financial difficulties and emotional burden for families and communities and contributes to the cycle of poverty. Globally, not enough caregivers can recognize pneumonia symptoms. Consequently, less than one third of children suffering from pneumonia receive antibiotics, which are available for less than $1.

Preventing pneumonia is critical to reducing deaths. Research shows that a package of health measures provided globally, especially to the poorest communities, could dramatically cut childhood deaths from pneumonia.

Vaccines against two of pneumonia’s common bacterial causes, Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae type B) and pneumococcus, have prevented many deaths in industrialized countries. The GAVI Alliance, an international partnership devoted to improving child health, has helped low-income countries introduce Hib and pneumococcal vaccines within their public vaccination programs.

Other proven, low-cost techniques include exclusive breast feeding for six months, ensuring good nutrition, reducing indoor air pollution, using antibiotics, washing hands, and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Additionally, many children do not get the care they need, making education of parents and health providers a priority so they better understand the necessity of preventative measures. Health workers must be trained to diagnose pneumonia and must be equipped with a steady supply of quality antibiotics for treatment.

Fighting pneumonia is a critical strategy for countries working to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which include a goal to reduce under-5 child deaths by two-thirds from the 1990 level.

“We have been fooled too long ignoring this disease. Children dying of pneumonia may be living in poor countries but these are not lesser lives. We must do all we can to take care of all children,” said Lance Laifer, founder of Hedge Funds vs. Malaria & Pneumonia.

“Our complacency ends today. We won’t let millions of children gasping their last breath go unnoticed by the world.”

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