Winter colds are never any fun – the high fever, the hacking cough, the difficulty breathing. Now imagine trying to struggle through all of that when you are undernourished, under five years old and under no care other than the worried eyes of your mother. Imagine dying of pneumonia. Seems old fashioned, right? Wrong. It happens every 20 seconds – pneumonia is the leading killer of children under five, and 98% of all childhood deaths from pneumonia occur in developing nations.
Last year I participated in my first World Pneumonia Day, standing outside Union Station in Washington, D.C., trying to raise awareness about this deadly disease. On that crisp, sunny Friday morning few people wanted to think about such a grim topic. But many did stop, many more than my cynical self believed would. Why? Because the story and the evidence of pneumonia is so compelling, and so surprising. How is it possible that in a world blanketed by public health announcements, fundraising campaigns, and drawn out media debates that we don’t know that pneumonia is the number one killer of children under five – killing more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined? How is this possible when we have effective and affordable tools to help children?
So people stopped and asked. They wanted to learn more, they wanted to get involved. We weren’t asking for money, we were asking them to engage, to pause on their rush to work, to linger in the sunshine and learn something more. Here’s the thing, we can win the fight against pneumonia. More than one million young lives can be saved annually with vaccines and antibiotics, by reducing indoor air pollution and through breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
Groups big and small from around the world are working towards this; from GAVI, Save the Children, and the UN’s Best Shot Foundation to local governments to us here at Sabin. Since 2001 Sabin’s Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts has been active in countries around the world, advocating for increased access to pneumococcal vaccines. PACE is a group of 21 of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases and vaccines and. Since PACE’s inception, 67 countries have introduced pneumococcal vaccine. Thanks to the championship of pneumococcal by these experts, and the work of all the World Pneumonia Day Coalition members and countless others, we have it within our power to save thousands of lives.
So join us this Saturday, November 12th in celebrating the 3rd Annual World Pneumonia Day. Stop a moment to ask, to learn and to help.