When Lokuru brought her 1-year-old baby to get food at Save the Children’s stabilization center in northern Kapoeta, South Sudan, she had another concern on her mind. The night before, her daughter Hakaroom’s breathing had become heavy and labored. Her small body was starting to feel hot. A nurse at the center recognized Hakaroom’s symptoms as pneumonia and sent her to the Primary Health Care Center, where the infant was treated for severe pneumonia with antibiotics and fluids. All of Lokuru’s four children have suffered from pneumonia at some point in their lives, but Hakaroom’s case was the worst. According to the Save the Children medic who treated Hakaroom, without immediate medication, she would not have lived through the night.
Nearly 1 million children died of pneumonia in 2015. I continue to be shocked by that fact. We know how to prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia, and we have known for a long time. So why do so many children around the world still lose their lives to this disease?
You often hear people describe an illness with the cliché, “it doesn’t discriminate.” I want to be clear: Pneumonia discriminates.
Pneumonia is a disease of poverty. Ninety-nine percent of child deaths from pneumonia occur in developing countries. Within these high burden countries, it is the poorest and most marginalized children who are at greatest risk. A child should not die because of where she was born or what resources her family has.
The world’s poorest children are more likely to suffer pneumonia risks such as malnutrition, indoor air pollution and a lack of primary healthcare. If they do get sick with pneumonia, they are the least likely to get medical treatment. Each year, about 40 million cases of pneumonia are left untreated.
Because inequality can be fatal, Save the Children has committed itself to reaching Every Last Child. Our organization is working to improve the health and wellbeing of the poorest and most marginalized children around the world. When the United Nations developed the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, it proposed that by 2030, no child should suffer a preventable death. We cannot achieve this goal if we do not overcome pneumonia.
Save the Children is a leader when it comes to combatting pneumonia. We have been preventing and treating the disease in children for decades. We can prevent pneumonia by increasing immunization, addressing undernutrition, ensuring safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and reducing household air pollution. Most cases of pneumonia can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics.
To end pneumonia deaths for good, the global community needs to come together with equitable solutions. We’re asking Congress to increase funding for USAID’s Maternal and Child health programs and to support and pass the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.
To learn more about how Save the Children is fighting pneumonia for all children and how you can help, please visit SavetheChildren.org/pneumonia.