Pneumonia Remains A Deadly Disease After Centuries of Knowledge

World Pneumonia Day, observed on 12 November every year since 2009, brings awareness to this leading killer of children below 5 years of age. An editorial in this month’s International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IJTLD) highlights that pneumonia is a lung disease that affects not only children but people of all ages. Authors Dr Stephen Graham of The Union and Prof Guy B Marks, IJTLD Editor-in-Chief for Lung Disease, write that “pneumonia has been an important cause of death for centuries.”

Among people of all ages, lower respiratory infections cause 3.2 million deaths each year and are rated as the third leading cause of death, after ischaemic heart disease and stroke, according to the World Health Organization. In 2011 an estimated It is estimated that in 2011 out of the 120 million children were ill with pneumonia and 1.3 million of them succumbed to the disease.

Developments that help or hinder management of pneumonia have an impact on both children and adults. For example:

  • Pneumococcal vaccine for children is to be rolled out by GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) in many high-burden countries by 2015. This is likely to reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to child pneumonia. This vaccine may also benefit adults aged over 65 years.
  • Antibiotics used to treat pneumonia can be given at community-care level. However, it is essential to reduce unnecessary and inappropriate antibiotic use for acute upper respiratory tract infections, as it is creating problems of drug resistance, especially in Asian settings.
  • Hypoxia is an important cause of death in both adult and child pneumonia, and yet mechanisms to detect and manage it are still scarce in high-burden settings.
  • Although affordable interventions for pneumonia are readily available, the challenge is to identify the most cost-effective ones within national settings and scale them up to reach those who need them most.

    Jose Luis Castro, Interim Executive Director of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) has rightly remarked that, “World Pneumonia Day plays an important role in building public awareness that a treatable disease has devastating consequences for young children, the aged, the poor and other vulnerable populations. Today we call on governments and other stakeholders to ensure that systems are put in place to prevent these needless deaths.”