Parliamentarians for Pneumonia

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dr. Orin Levine Director of Vaccine Delivery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Was World Pneumonia Day a success?  Well, if you judge it by the response of parliamentarians
and elected officials around the world, then it sure seems like one.

For the first time ever elected officials around the world
were speaking out on behalf of pneumonia prevention and treatments for children,
standing up and doing their part to support pneumonia efforts and in some
cases, declaring quite honestly that they never knew until World Pneumonia Day
that pneumonia was such a big problem.

First let’s thank Carol
for her
on the US House of Representatives floor and the dozens of congresswomen
and congressmen, from all parties, who voted, 421 to 1, to endorse a House resolution
on pneumonia
prevention, treatment, and recognition of World Pneumonia Day.  To my knowledge, this is the first
parliamentary resolution ever dedicated solely to the issue of pneumonia.  And just this morning, in the US
Capitol Building, I had the privilege of joining a long-time leader in the
child survival and global health field, former Senator
Bill Frist
, for an event attended by more than 50 individuals.  This event was organized by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), the US Coalition for Child Survival, and Save the Children (Senator Frist is
chairman of Save’s Survive to 5 campaign).

In the United Kingdom, the All Party Parliamentary Group on
Prevention of Pneumococcal Disease Prevention
in the developing world (the
only parliamentary group in the world dedicated specifically to prevention of
Pneumonia in children), held a briefing in the House of Commons that was attended
by more than 50 participants. In his letter of support, David Cameron MP, Leader of the
Conservative Party, reminded us that it is exactly at this time of financial
uncertainty that more than ever requires us to lend a hand to those in need. Nick Clegg MP, Leader of the Liberal
Democrats, said that World Pneumonia
is an opportunity to remind the world of this terrible illness and the
need for action.  Not to be out
done, the ruling Labor Party Secretary for International Development, Douglas
Alexander MP
, provided a video message articulating the ongoing support
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s
government is providing for pneumonia prevention and control around the world.

But more importantly than events in Washington and London,
for the first time ever, parliaments in developing countries, where the bulk of
pneumonia deaths occur, were active locally.  In Bangladesh, Mr.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, MP
was active at a local media event, that was
preceded by a march to Parliament by over 400 local Bangladeshis.  And even better, this was a
parliamentarian to parliamentarian connection because Mr. Chowdhury, a
Bangladeshi MP, was joined by Des
Turner, MP
, a UK Parliamentarian who leads the UK All Party Group.  In other countries severely affected by
pneumonia like Nigeria and Uganda there are other examples of elected officials
taking the lead. 

A day dedicated to a disease that takes the lives of 2
million children a year is not a reason for celebration.  But if a celebration is in order, it is
to thank the many elected officials and parliamentarians who are taking up the
cause and stressing that it is a non-partisan issue.  With some sustained political will and increased resources, we
can deliver the package of pneumonia interventions that will prevent 1 million
child deaths a year by 2015.  And
with their leadership, we should be able to announce soon that pneumonia is no
longer the leading killer of children worldwide.  That would be a legitimate reason to celebrate World
Pneumonia Day.