What Can You Do to Help on World Pneumonia Day?

11/12/2012 11:18 EST | Updated 01/12/2013 05:12 EST

World Pneumonia Day is Monday, November 12. World Vision takes a look at the illness that claims the lives of more young children each year than any other -- and shares what you can do help.

Baby Esther's mother grabbed her, shouting to the other children to follow. Bullets flew in all directions. Ducking behind huts and cowering amongst trees, the family fled their village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a place wracked with conflict between government and rebel troops. They left everything behind.

At only 18 months of age, Esther has survived an ordeal that most Canadian children will never face, even in their nightmares. Yet she's still stalked by a killer that claims more young lives than any other illness: pneumonia. Esther and her family are now living in a refugee camp in Rwanda. As the temperature drops, explains one of the nurses, the number of pneumonia cases soars.


Rwandan Refugee Camp

A stark contrast

Here in Canada, having a young child diagnosed with pneumonia can be pretty scary for a parent. But the doctor will quickly reassure worried moms and dads that curing pneumonia is usually a simple process. It's just a course of antibiotics, the right nutrients, and plenty of rest in a warm bed.

Even when my own four-year-old daughter, Sarah, was battling a particularly serious case, she was airlifted from our rural community to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She recovered within days with the right treatment, and it's hard to describe the relief I felt.


Sarah at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto

But even the very basics I described are not available in the Rwandan refugee camp where Esther and her family are now living. And they're rarely present in families' home villages, either. It's no surprise that a staggering 99 per cent of all deaths from pneumonia occur in developing countries.

Bad news for children

In a report launched on World Pneumonia Day, World Vision is warning that the UN Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality is off target by 15 years. And it's got a lot to do with those pneumonia numbers. That's bad news for those trying to reach the goal -- but even worse news for Esther and countless other children around the world.

"Lost time means lost lives," says Sheri Arnott a senior policy advisor with World Vision. "There is no justifiable reason why a preventable illness like pneumonia is still killing a million children every year. The solutions to reduce child deaths from pneumonia are simple and proven. There's no excuse to be so far behind on this goal."

Pneumonia belongs to a notorious group of killers responsible for the deaths of 4.4-million children under the age of five each year. Also in the group: malaria and even diarrhea. Like pneumonia, they're all easily preventable. World Vision explores these causes in a report called "Never Had a Chance: Why millions of children still die needlessly every year."

Some report highlights:

• Solutions to prevent and treat these killers are known. Pneumonia is generally preventable through good nutrition, hygiene and care for children with lower respiratory tract infections.

• Disturbingly, the majority of preventable child deaths are happening in middle-income countries, such as India, China and Indonesia.

• Unless political action is accelerated, almost 100-million children will die from preventable causes over the next 20 years, and the heaviest burden will fall on families with the lowest incomes and in the most remote areas.

What can we do?

"Canada is a leader in child and maternal health," says World Vision's Sheri Arnott. "We must continue to step up and ensure resources are available to put trained health care workers, midwives and doctors on the front lines."

Canadians can also help prevent and treat illnesses like pneumonia and malaria, by purchasing an item through World Vision Gifts such as:

• Immunizations for a community

• A hygiene kit for a child

• Mosquito nets

• A mobile medical clinic