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UNICEF and WHO release comprehensive plan to tackle leading killer of young children

© UNICEF/NYHQ1999-0620/Pirozzi
An 18-month-old child receives oxygen from a tank in Basra, Iraq. Pneumonia is the leading cause of children under five in every region of the world.

NEW YORK, USA, 2 November 2009 – More children die every day of pneumonia than of any other disease. Today, UNICEF and the World Health Organization released a comprehensive plan to save millions of lives from this often fatal illness.

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The Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP) was released at the Global Pneumonia Summit, which is under way in New York.

Announcing the action plan's objective – to reduce pneumonia mortality in children under the age of five by 65 per cent by 2015 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said: "Effective interventions to reduce deaths caused by pneumonia must be used more widely and made more readily available for children at risk."

Link to influenza preparedness

Pneumonia is a common and serious consequence of pandemic influenza. As such, the action plan urges health officials to include pneumonia contingencies and case management in their influenza preparedness strategies. Going forward, the plan envisions coordinated delivery of a package of interventions on a national level.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-00814/Ramoneda
A woman carries her 18-month-old son home from the Sindh Government Children's Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. The child spent nearly a month at the hospital for treatment for pneumonia.

"Countries should develop a national plan for pneumonia control, which will require the formation of an inter-sectoral coordination body," said UNICEF Senior Health Specialist Dr. Mark Young.

Implementing the plan will have a great impact – saving the lives of as many as 5 million children over the next six years.

Investing in health systems

But progress will come at a cost. An estimated $39 billion will need to be invested in the effort to improve health systems and scale up capacity in the countries most affected.

Those countries, not coincidentally, are the same ones where achieving Millennium Development Goal 4, on reducing child mortality, faces the greatest challenges. Reducing the severity of pneumonia incidence can greatly improve the likelihood of meeting MDG 4 in sub-Saharan Africa and South-east Asia.

"Strengthening health systems to deliver the necessary interventions for pneumonia control will result in improved capacity to deliver the whole range of services needed to improve maternal and child survival," noted Dr. Young.

No silver bullet

GAPP calls for increasing those interventions known to be effective: exclusive breastfeeding, regular handwashing, and zinc supplementation.

In addition, it calls for a global expansion in access to preventive vaccines like measles and pneumococcal conjugate, and to antibiotic treatments for children who fall ill.

There is no silver bullet for pneumonia. As with all other childhood killers, it is impossible to completely prevent the disease, which also infects some children in the developed world who have access to excellent medical facilities. That is why the single largest expenditure in implementing the action plan is the estimated cost of supporting and paying community health workers.

Training of health workers

It is especially important for countries with limited resources to scale up training of health workers on a local level to assess and diagnose cases of pneumonia.

"Children in rural areas and those living in the poorest households are less likely to receive appropriate care," noted Dr. Young.

"That is one of the reasons why UNICEF is promoting community-based case management, providing community health workers with the knowledge, skills and essential medicines to manage pneumonia closer to the home, and increase access to appropriate care," he added.

Global coalition

GAPP is a call to many stakeholders – a coalition of global and national policy-makers, donor agencies and civil society.

As the providers of technical support in many of the countries where implementation is most needed, UNICEF and WHO can help conduct analysis and development of pneumonia action plans. But only with the cooperative efforts of international partners, and national and regional authorities, will the GAPP objectives be achieved.




30 October 2009: UNICEF Senior Health Specialist Robin Nandy discusses key components of the Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia.
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