Health Societies Want Governments to Prioritize Fight Against Pneumonia


World Pneumonia Day is Saturday, November 12, and health organizations issued a call to action to do a better job of diagnosing, treating, and preventing the disease.

For World Pneumonia Day November 12, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) is calling on governments and other stakeholders to take urgent action to tackle pneumonia.

The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution, and poor living conditions linked with conflict and climate change have contributed to a rise in pneumonia, according to the organization.

In 2019, an estimated 2.5 million individuals around the world, including 672,000 children, died of pneumonia. In 2021, the estimated burden of deaths from respiratory infections, including COVID-19, is a massive 6 million.

Most deaths occur in the poorest populations in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Low vaccination rates or lack of immunization, malnutrition, or exposure to cigarette smoke, and air pollution are key factors that increase susceptibility to pneumonia and to severe illness.

Older adults exposed to air pollution, especially from burning fossil fuels and smoking, are also at risk. Almost half of the estimated 1.6 million pneumonia deaths among adults aged over 50 years are attributable to air pollution or smoking.

To prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia, FIRS wants governments to:

  • Strengthen health systems to deliver interventions which reduce pneumonia deaths, including provision of effective vaccines, antibiotics and oxygen delivery systems
  • Implement sustainable interventions that protect against, prevent, and treat pneumonia across age groups
  • Support research into prevention and treatment strategies such as simple, low-cost point-of-care diagnostics for pneumonia and cost-effective oxygen delivery systems
  • Raise awareness about the risk factors for pneumonia
  • Ensure equitable and sustained access to prevention and treatment strategies globally

The organization also noted that vaccine education can be key in reducing pneumonia-related deaths, and there have been significant advances with effective vaccines available against pneumonia, including pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, during the pandemic, PCV coverage dropped in 46 of 195 countries and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has predicted a large increase in child deaths if urgent action is not taken to vaccinate these children. Currently only 51% of the world’s children receive PCV.

Pneumonia may have long-term consequences for children who have it at a young age, as they have an increased risk of developing asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as adults.

Lack of medical oxygen has compounded the pneumonia emergency with LMICs bearing the brunt of oxygen shortages and related deaths.

“Although lack of oxygen has always been a key issue in LMICs, COVID highlighted this gap, with oxygen unavailability and related deaths mainly affecting LMICs,” said FIRS president, Heather Zar, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

“There are an estimated 7 million children hospitalized with pneumonia each year who require oxygen and studies show that better oxygen systems can reduce mortality from childhood pneumonia by 50 percent or more.”

FIRS is made up of the American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology, Asociación Latino Americana De Tórax, European Respiratory Society , International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases , Pan African Thoracic Society, the Global Initiative for Asthma , and the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease.

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