Acute respiratory infections are the leading killer of children under five years old, according to a new report published by the World Lung Foundation. Contrary to public perception, pneumonia kills more children than malaria or AIDs.
Pneumonia accounted for 20 percent of child deaths around the world, or 1.6 million deaths in 2008, says the report, released on November 9. In comparison, 732,000 children died from malaria and 200,000 from AIDS.
The study, called the Acute Respiratory Infections Atlas, found that 4.25 million people die annually from respiratory infections that cause pneumonia.
Despite the high number of deaths from respiratory infections, “the global health community does not even recognize them as a distinct disease group,” said Peter Baldini, chief executive officer of the World Lung Foundation. “With relatively modest resources, the means are available to save millions of lives. We simply need commitment, sound policy, and strategic investment,” Baldini said.
The report, as summarized by Reuters, also found that the death rate from pneumonia is 215 times higher in low-income than in high-income countries. Indeed, 97 percent of the 156 million new cases of pneumonia every year are in developing countries.
Treatment Is Inexpensive and Effective
According to the World Lung Foundation, a course of antibiotics to treat bacterial causes of pneumonia costs only 27 cents. Administering antibiotics to all children who need them could save as many as 600,000 lives a year.
Indoor air pollution from cooking stoves, fires, and secondhand cigarette smoke–a rarely mentioned cause of respiratory death–kills 1.96 million people a year who contract infections from these sources, according to the report.
SOS Children’s Villages saves lives by providing medical treatment such as antibiotics to the 73,000 children under its care and to local families in need. Learn more about issues affecting orphaned and abandoned children worldwide at http://www.sos-usa.org.