Tackling the world's biggest child killer on World Pneumonia Day

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When considering the biggest killer of young children worldwide I, like most people, immediately think of mosquitoes spreading malaria, diarrhoea caused by filthy water, HIV and AIDs or even Ebola.

The biggest killer is far less obvious, it's not widely talked about and doesn’t claim the headlines. But it is by far the deadliest claiming over a million lives of children under the age of five every year.


Pneumonia claims more than 2,500 lives every day. It is not a single disease, it is a condition caused by multiple forms of bacteria or viral attacks. When a child is malnourished or has a weak immune system they are more likely to see a simple infection develop into pneumonia.

The condition can then lead to severe breathing difficulties, lung damage, often internal bleeding and eventually death. However, it is treatable through antibiotics and careful monitoring, usually within hospitals, to ensure the symptoms are kept in check.

Where children do not have access to healthcare of this sort, the mortality rate from pneumonia is far too high.

Combating Pneumonia

The best way to tackle pneumonia is simple: prevention and ensuring access to safe and affordable vaccinations.

In 2007 the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised this and introduced vaccines that would address pneumonia as part of all national immunisation programmes. Our friends at GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation) have pledged to support this in more than 50 countries by 2015.

Then in 2013 the global community came together to tackle pneumonia in a big way. In Geneva, backed by the WHO and UNICEF, the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) was launched.

This plan seeks to combat the issue head on and aims to improve interventions in order to protect, prevent and treat pneumonia in children. Key amongst these are promoting breastfeeding to boost developing immune systems, ensuring regular hand washing, reducing indoor pollution and providing timely access to the right treatment.

World Vision has been a tireless advocate of the Global Action Plan at all levels and is currently supporting its roll out and implementation across the world.

More must be done

Today is World Pneumonia Day. A day to raise public awareness of the size and scale of a preventable, but still all too common, cause of childhood death, a hidden killer.

18 months on from the launch of Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea much more still needs to be done to realise its ambitions and to firmly tackle this most deadly of child killers once and for all.

We need accelerated action from governments and increased support from the international community to help children in the hardest to reach places.

Today we want to remind the world that action is urgently needed. That today should mark the start of a renewed global effort to end preventable child deaths from pneumonia.

Find out more about how you can help.