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Pneumonia to kill nearly 11 million children by 2030

Femi*, 2, was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and tuberculosis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Femi*, 2, was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and tuberculosis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Pneumonia is on course to kill nearly 11 million children by 2030, new analysis conducted by Johns Hopkins University and Save the Children reveals.

The in-depth modelling, released on World Pneumonia Day, also shows that more than four million of these deaths – more than a third – could be easily averted with concerted action to improve rates of vaccination, treatment and nutrition.

Without action, the aid organisation’s forecasts show Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are likely to bear the highest burden of deaths.

Pneumonia mostly affects the elderly, but the disease is the biggest infectious killer for children globally, killing more than malaria, diarrhoea and measles combined.

880,000 children, mostly under the age of two, died from the disease in 2016, the most recent year for which full data is available.

SCI CEO, Helle Thorning-Schmidt said:

“It should shame us that almost a million children are dying every year from a disease that we have the knowledge and resources to defeat. There is a vaccine available, and a course of antibiotics costs just £0.30.”

The agency’s forecasts are based on a model developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University called the Lives Saved Tool (LiST).

They show nearly 11 million (10,865,728) children will die by 2030 on current trends, with the highest burden of deaths in Nigeria (1,730,000), India (1,710,000), Pakistan (706,000), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (635,000).

However, scaling up vaccination coverage to 90 per cent of children under the age of five could save 610,000 lives; providing cheap antibiotics could save 1.9 million; and ensuring children have good nutrition could save 2.5 million.

If all three overlapping interventions were carried out by 2030, the model suggests a total of 4.1 million deaths could be averted.

2030 is the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include an ambitious global pledge to “end preventable child deaths” and achieve Universal Health Coverage.

To end preventable child deaths from diseases like pneumonia, Save the Children wants to see: 

  • The prices of major pneumonia vaccines dramatically lowered to allow more than 76 million infants to be immunised 
  • Governments of low-and middle-income countries prioritising building strong health and nutrition systems that reach the most marginalised
  • Donor governments support countries to achieve Universal Health Coverage.

Dr Ellie Cannon, a General Practitioner with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), visited Save the Children’s health programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 50,000 children died from pneumonia in 2016.

Dr. Cannon said:

“It was shocking to see children dying from a disease we can treat so easily in the UK. Children are arriving on the brink of starvation, their immune systems weakened by malnutrition. And even when they get to medical help, doctors simply don’t have the basic supplies like oxygen and antibiotics to treat them. These are medics with the same training as me. I could write a simple prescription or arrange a quick X Ray. My medical colleagues in the DRC are forced to watch children die.”