One child dies of pneumonia every 39 seconds, agencies warn

Pneumonia – a preventable disease – kills more children than any other infection

12 November 2019
Children with pneumonia

Bucharest (11th November 2019) - Pneumonia claimed the lives of more than 800,000 children under the age of five last year, or one child every 39 seconds, according to a new analysis.

Most deaths occurred among children under the age of two, and almost 153,000 within the first month of life. [1]

Last year in Romania there were 2,200 cases of children under 5 with bacterial pneumonia, meaning 42 cases per week. Regarding the deaths caused by this type of pneumonia, the estimate number in Romania is 390 or 8 cases per week, for children under age of 5.

Sounding the alarm about this forgotten epidemic, six leading health and children’s organisations are today launching an appeal for global action. [2]

In January the group will host world leaders at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Spain.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said:“Every day, nearly 2,200 children under the age of five die from pneumonia, a curable and mostly preventable disease. Strong global commitment and increased investments are critical to the fight against this disease. Only through cost-effective protective, preventative and treatment interventions delivered to where children are will we be able to truly save millions of lives.”

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. More children under the age of five died from the disease in 2018 than from any other. 437,000 children under five died due to diarrhoea and 272,000 to malaria.

Just five countries were responsible for more than half of child pneumonia deaths: Nigeria (162,000), India (127,000), Pakistan (58,000), the Democratic Republic of Congo (40,000) and Ethiopia (32,000). [3]

Children with immune systems weakened by other infections like HIV or by malnutrition, and those living in areas with high levels of air pollution and unsafe water, are at far greater risk. The disease can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics if properly diagnosed. But tens of millions of children are still going unvaccinated – and one in three with symptoms do not receive essential medical care. [3]

In a joint call to action, the organisations urge:

  • Governments in the worst-affected countries to develop and implement Pneumonia Control Strategies to reduce child pneumonia deaths; and to improve access to primary health care as part of a wider strategy for universal health coverage;
  • Richer countries, international donors and private sector companies to boost immunisation coverage by reducing the cost of key vaccines and ensuring the successful replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and to increase funding for research and innovation to tackle pneumonia.

Notes to Editors:

[1] UNICEF analysis produced in September 2019, based on WHO and Maternal and Child Epidemiology Estimation Group (MCEE) interim estimates and the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation estimates for the year 2018.

[2] ISGlobal, Save the Children, UNICEF, Every Breath Counts, Unitaid and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are calling for concrete commitments from high-burden countries and international donors to tackle pneumonia. [3] The top 15 countries by pneumonia deaths for children under the age of five in 2018, were:

Nigeria - 162,000

India - 127,000

Pakistan - 58,000

Democratic Republic of the Congo - 40,000

Ethiopia - 32,000 

Indonesia - 19,000

China - 18,000

Chad - 18,000

Angola - 16,000

United Republic of Tanzania - 15,000

Somalia - 15,000

Niger - 13,000

Mali - 13,000

Bangladesh - 12,000 

Sudan - 11,000

At global level there were 802,000 pneumonia-related deaths in children under five in 2018. 

[3] In 2018, 71 million children did not receive the recommended three doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), putting them at higher risk of pneumonia. Globally, 32% of children with suspected pneumonia are not taken to a health facility. That figure rises to 40% for the poorest children in low- and middle-income countries. 


Media contacts

Raluca Dinu-Paicu
Media & Advocacy Officer
UNICEF in Romania
Tel: +40 744 786 809
Tel: +40 21 2017865


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook