This Friday, 12 November, is World Pneumonia Day.
There are many ways that you can show your support this year for the global campaign to put an end to this preventable killer. You can send a pneumonia day card to your friends and family to raise awareness, send a ‘PneumoniaGram’ to world leaders, sign up to campaigns on Facebook or Twitter, or participate in the world-wide blue jeans day to raise awareness of pneumonia.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that causes them to be filled with fluid. It causes cough and fever making breathing difficult. If not treated, it can be deadly. In fact, pneumonia kills more children under 5 than any other disease.
The tragedy is that we have tools to prevent and treat pneumonia but there are too many barriers that stop children getting the care that they need. For example, one million young lives could be saved each year with widespread use of vaccines and improved access to antibiotics.
Young children living in the poorest parts of the world and the elderly are at the greatest risk. Children who are poorly nourished and those with weakened immune systems as a result of other conditions such as HIV are also have a greater risk of dying from pneumonia.
Pneumonia is caused by a number of different organisms. Bacteria such as Hib and pneumococcus are estimated to cause more than half of all pneumonia deaths. These organisms are frequently spread by poor hygiene. Improved access to clean water and adequate sanitation, as well as the promotion of simple hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap, can reduce the number of pneumonia-related infections in children under the age of five by more than 50 percent.
Vaccines to prevent pneumonia and other childhood illnesses are also crucial for achieving long-term reductions in child mortality. The GAVI Alliance is a key organisation that has been scaling up access to new and underused vaccines including a new vaccine against the pneumococcal disease. In 2011, GAVI will be looking to raise US$4.3 billion to scale-up immunisation programmes in developing countries between 2010 and 2015. The UK government has been one of the lead donors to the GAVI Alliance in the past. It’s crucial that their commitment continues as the Alliance seeks to scale up the use of vaccines.
Immunisations have been one of the biggest success stories of development over the last decade and show what impact good aid can have. To illustrate this, read a story about how pneumonia vaccines are helping children in Rwanda.