Pneumonia is killing one child every hour in South Sudan

12 November 2019

JUBA, November 12, 2019 — Pneumonia claimed the lives of 7,640 children under the age of five in South Sudan last year, or one child every hour, according to a new UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality analysis.

Save the Children, UNICEF and the Every Breath Counts coalition are calling for the South Sudanese Government to urgently commit new resources to tackling this deadly disease. The steps to address pneumonia are those that will support essential basic health services needed to address the three big killers of young children, pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea.

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with infection and fluid.

The disease is one of the leading killers of children in South Sudan, causing 20 per cent of under-five deaths in 2018 due to inequality, poverty and lack of access to health.

Globally, 802,000 children under the age of five died from pneumonia in 2018, more than from any other disease. 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).

Children with immune systems weakened by other infections or by malnutrition, and those living in areas with high levels of air pollution and unsafe water, are at far greater risk.

Most pneumonia deaths can be prevented with vaccines, nutritional support and preventing spread of disease with clean water and handwashing. Most pneumonia cases are easily treated with low-cost antibiotics.

But hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on this support. South Sudan has low vaccine coverage (48 per cent), frequent outbreaks of measles and is yet to roll out pneumococcal vaccines, a key vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia. Less than half of children suffering from pneumonia symptoms have access to medical treatment.

Rama Hansraj, Country Director, Save the Children in South Sudan said:

“Health facilities in South Sudan are overwhelmed with pneumonia cases with more than 7,000 death in 2018. Pneumonia in South Sudan complicated with other childhood diseases like anemia and malaria, and a lack of access to health services makes things more dangerous. With pneumonia so low down on the global agenda, yet taking so many young lives, we need to act now. There are clear actions that we can take to save thousands of children dying from the disease. We are appealing for urgent support from the global community and the Government to save the lives of children in urgent need of affordable vaccine, antibiotics and oxygen treatment.”

Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, said:

“Pneumonia is among the top killer diseases of children under five in South Sudan. Solutions to prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia are well known. The Government of the Republic of South Sudan, the Ministry of Health, UN agencies and the donor community need to join efforts to combat pneumonia through Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and equitable access to quality primary and community health care.”

Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of Every Breath Counts, said:

“For decades the leading killer of children has been a neglected disease and the world’s most vulnerable children have paid the price. It’s time for governments, UN and multilateral agencies, companies and NGOs to join forces to fight pneumonia and protect these children.”

The organizations are calling on the South Sudan Government to develop and implement a Pneumonia Control Strategy to reduce child pneumonia deaths, as part of a wider strategy for universal health coverage.

South Sudan spent just US$23 per person on health care in 2016, far below the US$86 minimum level recommended by the World Health Organization.

In January, South Sudan is among the countries invited to attend the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Spain – the first major summit on pneumonia for more than a decade.

Media contacts

Kangu Tito Justin
Media and Communication Coordinator
Save the Children International, South Sudan
Tel: +211(0)92 2844458
Yves Willemot
Chief of Communication
UNICEF South Sudan
Tel: +211 91 216 2888


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 in South Sudan visit:

Follow UNICEF South Sudan on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube