UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 12 (Xinhua) — A new analysis report published Thursday shows that severe pneumonia leaves an estimated 4.2 million children under the age of five in 124 low- and middle-income countries with critically low oxygen levels each year.
The joint analysis conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Save the Children and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) says that the COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions to health services “threaten to be a further blow” in the battle against the world’s biggest infectious killer of children, which already claims the lives of over 800,000 children under the age of five each year.
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. Severe pneumonia affects more than 22 million young children in low- and middle-income countries each year and kills more than malaria, measles and diarrhea combined.
“COVID-19 has infected millions of people and rendered difficult global conditions for children even worse,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “While the world grapples with the pandemic and the severe consequences it poses for the most vulnerable, we must not lose sight of the fact that pneumonia continues to claim more than 2,000 young lives every day. Medical oxygen can help save some of these lives.”
Save the Children UK CEO Kevin Watkins said, “The pandemic has exposed a devastating oxygen shortage in the poorest countries. Each year millions of children reach health facilities in developing countries needing oxygen support. In much of Africa fewer than one-in-five get the treatment they need. Many die from exhaustion — their fragile bodies starved of the oxygen they need to recover.”
CHAI CEO Iain Barton said, “Helping countries establish resilient systems to provide oxygen reliably and efficiently will save lives during this pandemic and treat patients sustainably in the future.”
In a commentary published in the Lancet on World Pneumonia Day, which falls on Nov. 12, global health agencies including Save the Children and UNICEF call for governments and donors to build on the investment and efforts made to respond to COVID-19 to strengthen health systems that can tackle childhood pneumonia.
World Pneumonia Day was established by the Stop Pneumonia Initiative in 2009 to raise awareness about the toll of pneumonia — a leading killer of children around the world — and to advocate for global action to protect against, help prevent and effectively treat this deadly illness.