Respiratory Infections are Top Killer of Children Under Five

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


photo credit: thanks to Adam Jones, Ph.D. via flickr
By Kyna Rubin, SOS Children's Villages


Carla Manning
Carla M8 years ago

Thanks for the article. Antibiotics should be available EVERYWHERE.

David M.
Eva Daniher8 years ago


Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

thanx for the information

Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann8 years ago

Not only indoor air-pollution but also the outdoor pollution resulting from the widespread use of fossil fuels contributes to respiratory diseases. The world is in dire need of thorough cleaning.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p8 years ago

very sad

Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

Even knowing this, we still charge how much in this country for antibiotics, and then we still use things that can cause lung disease such as coal powered energy and such?

Cath Bono
Kate A8 years ago

Thank you for bringing article to the front and letting us know.

Ben Oscarsito
Ben O8 years ago

The Child Health Site:

Kristin Kiser
Pamela Kiser8 years ago

Has anyone started a petition for this??

Bee ZZ
Past Member 8 years ago

Signing & quoting ana p.