Even some physicians I know are amazed when they hear that the leading killer of children under the age of five in the developing world is pneumonia. Not malaria. Not AIDS. A highly preventable and treatable illness is claiming 1.5 million young lives every year.
Vaccines exist that can prevent the leading causes of pneumonia and cost-effective antibiotics can treat most cases. If developing countries had these vaccines and medicines, more than a million children could be saved each year.
That's why Save the Children and more than 100 health and humanitarian organizations have joined forces to promote World Pneumonia Day this Nov. 12. We know if Americans understand that children are dying needlessly, they will take action to help.
This is a problem with a proven solution. And few causes can offer a better return on investment. A course of antibiotics can treat most cases for less than $1. Other low cost prevention measures include exclusive breastfeeding for six months, ensuring good nutrition, reducing air pollution, washing hands and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. No other interventions currently available have the potential to save children's lives at this scale.
So why are we still losing this battle? Many children who contract pneumonia simply do not get the care they need. Though it is common, it is rarely diagnosed, as few caregivers can recognize the symptoms and begin treatment in time.
The current critical shortage of 4.3 million health care workers is another reason more children do not receive prompt diagnosis and care. Community health care workers can fill this gap, learning in just a few months of training how to use a simple timer to measure breaths and providing lifesaving care to children in the hardest-to-reach places, where most deaths occur.
We need more pneumonia fighters on the front lines. Join the World Pneumonia Day movement and see how breathtakingly easy it can be to save a child's life.
Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, is chairman of Save the Children's Newborn and Child Survival campaign.