“Pneumonia: the forgotten killer of children” is a joint publication from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). The title is both disturbing and succinctly accurate.
While pneumonia isn’t limited to children, it certainly has a disproportionate impact upon them. It kills more than 2 million children every year – more than any other illness and more than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined. It the the leading cause of death in children across to globe.
The saddest part is research has shown that, with proper prevention efforts and adequate treatment, 1 million of those children don’t have to die.
The impact of pneumonia has been known for a long time. Hippocrates described treatments for it 2,500 years ago and Sir William Osler, the “father of modern medicine,” called it the “captain of the men of death” back in 1918.
Yet, in 2012, it still kills millions of children and adults. (In the U.S. alone, it kills some 40 to 70 thousand adults each year, more than any other infectious disease.)
We know what causes pneumonia: bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. We know that we have many good and fairly inexpensive treatments for most of these germs.
We know that many cases of pneumonia could be prevented by providing adequate nutrition which improves the body’s immune system. (This natural immunity boost is especially important for infants; exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life is key.)
We know that indoor air pollution is a major factor in pneumonia. While folks in the industrialized world think of indoor air pollution as chemical pollutants in our homes, people in less developed countries often have worse issues with indoor pollutants. This is because they use biomass fuels like dried dung, wood, coal, and crop waste for cooking and heating. Combined with poor ventilation, these fuels can cause very high levels of breathable “junk” in the air of their homes.
We also know that immunization – especially against measles, Hib, pneumococcus, and pertussis (whooping cough) – is the most effective way to decrease the impact of pneumonia (i.e., by preventing it in the first place.)
We know all this and yet pneumonia still kills 2 million children each year with no headlines, barely even a mention. “The forgotten killer of children,” indeed.
Posted – September 18, 2012