No one wants or expects a child to die of pneumonia, a disease that is easily preventable yet is a leading killer of children around the world. The respiratory illness kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five every year. Of these deaths, 99 percent are in developing countries.
Those are shocking statistics. But what makes these figures so tragic is that there is no reason for these children to suffer and die from pneumonia. It is a preventable disease. Deaths from childhood pneumonia can -- and should -- be as rare in Africa as they are in America.
Saturday, Nov. 12 was World Pneumonia Day, providing a good opportunity to talk about two programs that my organization, the United Nations Foundation, has undertaken to fight back against this deadly scourge.
The first is increasing access to the pneumococcal vaccine. Preventing the disease through a vaccine will save millions of lives. And unlike treatment strategies, it is relatively inexpensive. In the poorest countries where it is needed the most, vaccine manufacturers have dramatically reduced the price of each dose of the pneumococcal vaccine by more than 95 percent. Still, access to the vaccine is not yet universal.
In 2010 the GAVI Alliance, an international vaccine financing partnership, began a program to introduce pneumococcal vaccinations to more than 40 countries by 2015. Once at full capacity, the program will save hundreds of thousands of lives, but even more is possible with additional resources.
As world leaders met at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this September, the UN Foundation launched the Shot@Life campaign to empower Americans to champion access to vaccines in developing countries. We are talking with parents across the country and with policy makers in the halls of Congress to reduce vaccine preventable childhood deaths around the world. You can be part of this effort at ShotatLife.org.
Childhood vaccines are necessary to prevent the spread of pneumonia, but we also need to reduce the conditions in which children are exposed to respiratory illness. In urban and rural communities across developing countries, one of the greatest causes of pneumonia can be found right inside the home.
Each day almost 3 billion people around the world rely on traditional cookstoves that use coal, dung, charcoal or wood to fuel the fires that cook their meals. More often than not, these rudimentary cookstoves and open fires are located in the center of households without proper ventilation. They emit toxic smoke that has significant consequences for human health, causing respiratory illnesses as well as low birth weight, cancers and heart disease. Over one-half of children's deaths from pneumonia are cookstoves related.
Cooking shouldn't kill. That is why the UN Foundation, along with 20 partners, launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves last year. Our goal is to create a worldwide market for clean, low-emitting alternatives to traditional coal and biomass-burning cookstoves. We support testing new cookstove models that are culturally and geographically appropriate for different communities around the world. We are also supporting research into the link between household air pollution and pneumonia. Through our efforts, we hope to create a market for over 100 million homes to adopt clean cookstoves and fuels by 2020. Visit CleanCookstoves.org.
Pneumonia inflicts a terrible toll on children around the world. Yet it doesn't have to. Visit UNFoundation.org to find out ways you can help. With your help, we can all breathe a little easier -- one vaccine and one clean cookstove at a time.
Kathy Calvin is the CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
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