UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at Fighting for Breath: The Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia

As Delivered

29 January 2020
baby with pneumonia
On October 22, 2019, at the National Hospital of Jalapa, Guatemala, Randy Hernández Estrada (6 months old) is being treated for pneumonia.

BARCELONA, Spain, 29 January 2020 - "Thirty-nine seconds.

"Every 39 seconds, a child dies from pneumonia.

"Out of every five child deaths, pneumonia causes one.

"That’s more than malaria, HIV, measles and tetanus combined.

"Last year alone, pneumonia claimed the lives of more than 800,000 children under the age of five years.

"Of these, an alarming 153,000 were newborns under the age of 28 days. Unable to breathe just weeks after taking their first breath.

"A cruel injustice.

"And a tragedy because we know what works.

"We know how to prevent these deaths.

"Breast-feeding, good nutrition and vaccines, so children grow up strong and healthy from the start. A health care system that provides quality services and health workers that are trained to spot and treat pneumonia. Eliminating risk factors like air pollution and unsafe water. Antibiotics. Oxygen.

"We know.

"But still we fail.


"We fail because of poverty, when parents cannot afford to take their children to a clinic. Children from the poorest households are nearly twice as likely to die from pneumonia than children from wealthy ones.

"We fail because children showing signs of pneumonia aren’t accurately diagnosed by parents or medical providers.

"We fail because children cannot get the basic services they need from their local clinics — or because treatment is too expensive.

"But most of all, we fail because we have — so far — lacked the global commitment to address this situation. To find new ways to scale-up proven solutions, commodities and services that we know save lives.

"This conference is a critical step in building a new global consensus to take action on pneumonia.

"And to prevent nearly nine million more children from suffering the same fate over the next decade.  

"To the governments in this room — you have the power to change the course of history.

"Agencies like UNICEF are standing behind you, ready to support you.

"To invest in health workers. Making sure they are well-trained and supported, and have the vaccines and antibiotics they need. That they have clean and safe environments in which to work. And that they have the training to carry out this vital task.

"To ensure access to lifesaving treatments by scaling-up critical commodities. For example, low-cost, dispersible Amoxicillin DT as a first line of treatment. One full treatment for pneumonia costs less than 50 cents per child.

"To scale up innovative weapons in our fight against pneumonia — weapons like inexpensive pulse oximeters that can instantly measure blood oxygen levels and systems so critically ill children can get the oxygen they need to breathe.

"To help shape the right environment for children — clean water, nutritious foods, and clean air to breathe.  

"To heed the call of the Global Vaccine Initiative — GAVI — next month, to fund and scale-up pneumonia-protecting vaccines, particularly in humanitarian emergencies.

"And most of all, to build and deliver community-based, accountable primary health services in all contexts — humanitarian and development alike — in which children and families can get all the services they need in one place.

"Every 39 seconds, pneumonia shatters a family.

"We can prevent this.

"All of us — governments, agencies like UNICEF, businesses, researchers, innovators and communities.

"This meeting is a start. But the true depth of our commitment will reveal itself in the months and years to come.

"Millions of young lives hang in the balance.

"We know what to do.

"Let’s carry forward the momentum built here in Barcelona back to our workplaces, to our boardrooms, to the communities who depend on us, and to the halls of power.

"Let’s re-commit to ending these tragedies.

"For children fighting for breath.

"For families fighting for their children.

"For all of us, fighting for a healthier future. 

"Thank you."

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