Pneumonia epidemic is deadliest child killer- aid groups

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Pneumonia is the deadliest child killer in the world, with a “forgotten epidemic” claiming one young life every 39 seconds, warned Tuesday 12 November by international health agencies and children’s agencies.

The disease is preventable, but more children – 800,000 under the age of 5 last year – are still killed than any other infection, they said in a statement to mark World Pneumonia Day.

Over 2,200 children under the age of 5 die every day from pneumonia, a curable and mostly preventable disease, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a joint statement.

Strong global engagement and increased investment are vital to fighting this epidemic … Only through cost-effective prevention, preventive and rehabilitation measures delivered where children are will we really be able to save millions of lives. The numbers make grim reading and contrast with the deaths of 437,000 under fives last year due to diarrhea and 272,000 due to malaria.

Five countries accounted for over half of infant pneumonia deaths–162,000 in Nigeria, 127,000 in India, 58,000 in Pakistan, 40,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 32,000 in Ethiopia.

Bacteria, viruses or fungi cause pneumonia, leaving children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid.

Children with weakened immune systems and those living in areas with high air pollution levels and unsafe water are at greatest risk.

Vaccines can stop the infection and when correctly diagnosed, it can be effectively treated with low-cost antibiotics.

This is a neglected global crisis needing an immediate international response, said Kevin Watkins, Save the Children UK’s chief executive.

Millions of children are dying for lack of vaccines, affordable antibiotics, and routine oxygen treatment. The pneumonia crisis is a symptom of neglect and indefensible inequalities in access to health care. The agencies will host world leaders in Spain at the first-ever Global Childhood Pneumonia Forum in January.

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