Mission Doctors Association

World Pneumonia Day

Today is World Pneumonia Day. While some of us have had family members who were quite ill or died of pneumonia, the memories for many of us of pneumonia in ourselves or in family members is that of a respiratory illness which required a trip to our doctor and a prescription for antibiotics which cured the illness.

Worldwide though, pneumonia accounts for 15% of all deaths in children under 5 years of age.1 It is the leading cause of infectious disease deaths in these children3, with that risk highest in poor communities.2 If you look at the top 10 causes of death for all ages in the poorest 25% of the nations in the world, Lower Respiratory Infections are at the very top of the list.4 Only one-third of children in the world with bacterial pneumonia for which antibiotics are needed receive them.1 The vaccines which can help prevent some bacterial pneumonias are often not available.

The illnesses and risk factors which increase the risk of developing pneumonia are more common in resource-limited countries. These risk factors for children developing pneumonia include malnutrition, HIV infection, measles, indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with fuels such as wood or dung, and crowded living conditions.1 Severe pneumonia often requires expensive or unavailable treatments including hospitalization with intravenous fluids, oxygen, and breathing treatments. Even the outpatient treatment of simple pneumonia with evaluation at a local clinic and antibiotics is often difficult for people to access or not available at all.

Like so many things in mission medicine, the availability of the medical care needed to deal with an illness such as pneumonia in the United States is in stark contrast to the situation for so many of our brothers and sisters in other countries. Countries with the lowest relative need for healthcare have the highest number of physicians. Those with the greatest burden of disease have a smaller health workforce.5 Pneumonia is just one of the illnesses where this disparity in the availability of healthcare becomes a matter of life and death.

The work to prevent premature death from pneumonia around the world will continue to require efforts aimed at the underlying risk factors for pneumonia, making needed vaccinations available, and working to make timely access to trained and qualified healthcare providers a reality for all.



      1. World Health Organization

      Fact Sheet, Pneumonia



      1. World Health Organization

      World Pneumonia Day, 2018



      1. Stop Pneumonia

      World Pneumonia Day

      World Pneumonia Day

      Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia

      1. World Health Organization

      The top 10 causes of death



      1. World Health Organization

      Density of physicians (total number per 1000 population, latest available year)


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