World Pneumonia Day -- Celebrating Interventions That Save Lives

11/14/2011 07:34 pm ET | Updated Jan 14, 2012

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, many of the tools needed to save lives already exist, but we need to do a better job making sure those tools reach the children who need them most.

On this World Pneumonia Day, I think it is worth celebrating the incredible progress that we have made in getting one of the newest tools -- the pneumococcal vaccine -- into poor communities. Pneumonia is the leading killer of children under the age of 5 in the developing world, taking the life of a child every 20 seconds. But now we have a new vaccine and that vaccine is working: already in this first year, the vaccine has reached more than three million children in developing countries, and another 10 million are expected to receive it in 2012.

When I was in Kenya earlier this year to help celebrate the global introduction of this new vaccine, I knew the world was on the precipice of major change for the health of children. Now, it's clear we are well on our way.

And there are other tools in our arsenal too: A report released this week from the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, examines progress on several interventions in the 15 countries with the most child pneumonia deaths.

The report highlights the impact of increased access to the vaccine but it also demonstrates the need to continue our focus on simple, proven prevention and treatment solutions. As you can see in the graphic below, these efforts -- and others --save lives by dramatically reducing the rate of pneumonia infection in children.

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of the child's life reduces childhood pneumonia by 15 - 23%.
  • Using a clean cook stove reduces a child's risk of contracting pneumonia by an incredible 50%.
But children are simply not benefiting from these interventions. For example, less than 50% of kids in nearly all the countries in this report are actually being breastfed exclusively.

The report emphatically states: "pneumonia is one of the most solvable problems in global health." I couldn't agree more. Let's continue to build on the progress made this year and redouble our efforts to ensure that even more children stay alive to reach the next World Pneumonia Day.