The Injustice in Dying from Pneumonia

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.

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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.

It’s Time to Fight Back Against Pneumonia!

Jessica headshotJessica Harris

Media Relations Intern, Save the Children

Washington, D.C.

Monday, November 15, 2010

If you’re like me, you have had pneumonia before. At some point you felt ill, went to the doctor’s, took your medicine, and moved on. Unfortunately, children across the globe are dying from this highly preventable disease every day.

Every year, a total of 1.5 million children die from pneumonia. That’s one child every 20 seconds.

As I stood outside Union Station this morning passing out buttons and flyers to raise awareness for World Pneumonia Day, I realized one thing; not a single person I talked to could identify the number one killer of children.

To help draw attention to this little-known killer, the Kaiser Foundation hosted a panel discussion today featuring Cokie Roberts of NPR, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the Obama Administration, Dr. Orin Levine of John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Salim Sadruddin of Save the Children, and Shannon Duffy Peterson, parent advocate.

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Cokie Roberts of NPR and Dr. Orin Levine of John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discuss issues surrounding World Pneumonia Day.

There was not a dry eye in the room as Mrs. Duffy Peterson described how her daughter Abigail fell ill and later passed away after contracting pneumonia. It only took 72 hours. She was just two weeks shy of her sixth birthday.

The message today was clear. We need to get our children vaccinated, provide access to antibiotics to rural families in underdeveloped countries, and help parents to recognize the symptoms of pneumonia before it is too late.

For less than one dollar, life saving antibiotics can be administered to a child who might otherwise die from pneumonia. As Dr. Levine said during the discussion this morning, “Pneumonia is the biggest solvable problem in global health.”

As I sat there calculating the number of children would die during the panel discussion, this quote struck me as more than just a statement; it is a call to action

The Unknown Killer

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Dr. Bill Frist, Save the Children's Newborn and Child Survival campaign chairman

Nashville, Tenn.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Even some physicians I know are amazed when they hear that the leading killer of children under age 5 in the developing world is pneumonia. Not malaria. Not AIDS. A highly preventable and treatable illness is claiming 1.5 million young lives every year.

 Vaccines exist which can prevent the leading causes of pneumonia and cost-effective antibiotics can treat most cases.  If developing countries had these vaccines and medicines, more than a million children could be saved each year.

 That’s why Save the Children and more than 100 health and humanitarian organizations have joined forces to promote World Pneumonia Day this November 12th. We know if Americans understand that children are dying needlessly, they will take action to help.  

 This is a problem with a proven solution. And few causes can offer a better return on investment.  A course of antibiotics can treat most cases for less than $1. Other low-cost prevention measures include exclusive breastfeeding for six months, ensuring good nutrition, reducing air pollution, washing hands and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. No other interventions currently available have the potential to save children’s lives at this scale.

 So why are we still losing this battle?  Many children who contract pneumonia simply do not get the care they need. Though it is common, it is rarely diagnosed, as few caregivers can recognize the symptoms and begin treatment in time.

 The current critical shortage of 4.3 million health care workers is another reason more children do not receive prompt diagnosis and care. Community health care workers can fill this gap, learning in just a few months of training how to use a simple timer to measure breaths and providing lifesaving care to children in the hardest-to-reach places, where most deaths occur. 

 We need more pneumonia fighters on the front lines. Join the World Pneumonia Day movement and see how breathtakingly easy it can be to save a child’s life.   

Former Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist, a physician, is chairman of Save the Children’s Newborn and Child Survival campaign.