Pneumonia Is World's Deadliest Child Killer With One Child Dying Every 39 Seconds: UNICEF

Pneumonia Is World's Deadliest Child Killer With One Child Dying Every 39 Seconds: UNICEF

According to UNICEF, pneumonia is the world's deadliest child killer with one child dying of the disease every 39 seconds.

UNICEF on Tuesday (12 November 2019) said that lung disease, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children, with one child dying every 39 seconds.

Pneumonia kills more children than any other infection. In a press release, UNICEF said the infection has claimed more than 800,000 children under the age of 5 last year, with the majority of the deaths reported to be among children under the age of two and infants in the first month of life. 

The statistics prompted UNICEF and other leading health and children's organisations to appeal for global action. 

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF urged countries to invest to fight against the "curable and mostly preventable disease."

"Strong global commitment and increased investments are critical to the fight against this disease," said Fore. "Only through cost-effective protective, preventative and treatment interventions delivered to where children are will we be able to truly save millions of lives.”

signs of pneumonia

UNICEF: Pneumonia death in children rapidly increasing

Last year, more children under the age of five died from pneumonia compared to other diseases like diarrhoea and malaria which claimed 437,000 and 272,000 lives respectively.

According to UNICEF's report, five countries accounted for more than half of child pneumonia deaths: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. Children in these countries are also at a higher risk because of the high levels of air pollution and unsafe water. 

Pneumonia Is World's Deadliest Child Killer With One Child Dying Every 39 Seconds: UNICEF

Early diagnosis key to prevention

If properly diagnosed, pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics.

But tens of millions of children are still going unvaccinated and a third of these children with symptoms do not receive essential medical care said UNICEF.

For more severe cases of pneumonia, children may also require oxygen treatment. However, this is hardly available in the poorest countries where children need it the most.

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance finds this treatment situation appalling.

“The fact that this preventable, treatable and easily diagnosed disease is still the world’s biggest killer of young children is frankly shocking. We have made strong progress over the last decade...but we still have work to do to ensure every child has access to this lifesaver.”

Currently, only 3% of the global infectious disease research spending is allocated to pneumonia, despite the disease-causing 15% of deaths in children under the age of five.

Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive of Save the Children, also called on affordable treatment options.

“This is a forgotten global epidemic that demands an urgent international response. Millions of children are dying for want of vaccines, affordable antibiotics, and routine oxygen treatment. The pneumonia crisis is a symptom of neglect and indefensible inequalities in access to health care.”

In order to come up with feasible and long-lasting solutions to the pneumonia crisis, UNICEF and six agencies will host world leaders in the first-ever Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in January.

Pneumonia one of the leading causes of death in Singapore 

Pneumonia caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi often leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. Apart from infants and young children, adults over 65 are also at a higher risk of catching this life-threatening disease.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Health said the disease is the second most common cause of death after cancer. 

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Your child may have pneumonia if he or she displays the following symptoms: 

  • Fever of 38.5 C or lower
  • Fast breathing
  • General feeling of discomfort
  • Flu- or cold-like symptoms such as sore throat, chills, headache
  • Coughing that is dry and frequent
  • Rapid breathing with wheezing sounds
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Mucus tinged with blood or has a green or rust colour
  • Poor feeding (in infants) and decreased appetite (in older kids)

If you suspect you or your child may have contracted pneumonia, consult your physician immediately. Remember, the disease can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated if diagnosed properly!

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Written by

Shreya Jagdish

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