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Pneumonia kills more children than any other disease

Monday 12 November 2012

The facts

Pneumonia is an easily treatable disease and the medicines are cheap and easily administered. Yet shockingly, the disease kills more people than AIDS, malaria or measles combined.

It’s the leading cause of death worldwide and 1.4 million children under the age of five die from it.

These startling statistics came as a real shock to me when I attended a pneumonia stakeholders dialogue meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh in support of  World Pneumonia Day.

One of the reasons I believe I’ve been oblivious to how serious the disease is, is because I’ve spent most of my life living in the “first world” where healthcare and medicine is readily available and affordable, and there are all kinds of systems in place to support me if I develop even the slightest signs of the disease.

Also, the vast majority of pneumonia cases take place in the developing world where, sadly, it often goes unrecognised and untreated.

Young people present their work tackling pneumonia as community volunteers for World Pneumonia Day

The treatment

Pneumonia can be treated through simple interventions but without early treatment, it can be fatal.

The statistic that only 54% of children in Bangladesh with pneumonia are taken to qualified healthcare providers as well as the fact that it is the world’s leading cause of death for children speaks for itself.

In Bangladesh, there’s been a big push to tackle this fatal disease by training health workers to identify and manage pneumonia.

There’s also been a country-wide roll-out of the Hib vaccine, aiming to reduce prevalence by a third and in 2013 there’s a plan to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine which will have a dramatic impact on the number of pneumonia fatalities.

Despite all the hard work that’s been done to fight this killer disease, there are still people unable to access the vaccine or healthcare systems to keep themselves and their children safe.

Although the government of Bangladesh, with support from its partners, have been highlighting the seriousness of the disease there’s still a general lack of awareness by the public and they don’t recognise the symptoms or take appropriate action.

The consequences

I’ve personally met several mothers who’ve had to deal with the heartbreaking consequences of a child with pneumonia.

A couple of weeks ago I accompanied Minara and her daughter, Sonia, to a hospital in southern Bangladesh.

Sonia was the same size as a newborn baby, despite her five months, and was incredibly weak.

She was severally malnourished and her family couldn’t afford even the cheapest medicines on the long list prescribed.

She was suffering from many of the consequences of malnutrition but one of the most threatening was the pneumonia she picked up because she was too weak to fight it off.

Our message

Save the Children are working with communities in Bangladesh to promote good health practices, train healthcare providers and work with the government to design better health policies.

On World Pneumonia Day, Save the Children is participating in rallies taking place all over Bangladesh to raise awareness of this deadly disease and take further steps to protect people from it’s devastating effect.

One of the key messages we’re campaigning for is that families need to learn to spot the danger signs of pneumonia in order to prevent 19,000 needless deaths a year.

Please donate to support our vital work with children around the world

Photo credit: 1. Monsur Ahmed; 2. Abir Abdullah/Save the Children

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