Pneumonia – a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses and, more rarely, fungi – is the number one cause of death in children worldwide. Every year an estimated 156 million new cases of pneumonia and nearly 2 million deaths from the disease occur in children under 5 years of age. The impact of this disease is not distributed equally between populations – the poorest and most marginalized children bear the brunt of the effects, with 99% of pneumonia deaths occurring in developing countries. Fortunately, pneumonia is preventable and there are steps people around the world can take to reduce the global burden of pneumonia.
- Exclusive Breastfeeding – Not only does breast milk promote sensory and cognitive development in infants, it can also protect them against infectious disease. At birth, a baby’s immune system is relatively fragile and sensitive, but through breastfeeding they can acquire passive immunity from their mothers. The antibodies present in breastmilk help protect against disease causing bacteria and viruses until the baby can produce their own antibodies. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a newborn’s life.
- Vaccination – Vaccines are effective against some of the main causes of pneumonia. Two vaccines against bacterial pathogens – Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – are currently available in many countries worldwide. If these two vaccines were given to all children, they could prevent more than half of the world’s cases of pneumonia.
- Good Hygiene – The germs that cause pneumonia can easily be spread through person-to-person contact. Good hygiene practices, which include thorough and frequent hand washing, coughing or sneezing into an elbow or sleeve instead of hands, and avoiding interaction with those who are sick can reduce the risk of developing the infection.
- Reducing Air Pollution – In developing countries, one of the biggest threats to respiratory health is closer to home than many would imagine. Currently, around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves. The reduction of indoor air pollution in low-resource areas is seen as one of the strongest factors in reducing pneumonia-related morbidity and mortality. Organizations like The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves aim to improve lives through clean and efficient household cooking solutions.
Vaccinating children against pneumonia is vitally important. However, no one form of prevention is a panacea against pneumonia. These strategies, when implemented together, can drastically reduce risk of infection and improve quality of life in children all over the world.
This World Pneumonia Day, join our efforts in making sure all children get a Shot@Life by donating to the cause or raising awareness on how we can all help #StopPneumonia.