We also see that parents, no matter where they live, want the same basic things for their children: to be sure they have the chance to grow up healthy and strong, access a good education and have the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives. But for too many parents, these wishes never come true, because despite the progress that has been made in reducing preventable deaths, the tools available to keep their children healthy remain out of their reach. This is particularly true with than the leading killer of young children, pneumonia.
Pneumonia is the world’s leading killer of children under age 5, taking 1.3 million lives in 2011 alone and responsible for nearly one in five global child deaths. More than 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world, where access to health care facilities and treatment is out of reach for many children.
The global health community has designated November 12 World Pneumonia Day to raise awareness about the problem. Landmarks in cities across the U.S. will light up in blue tonight as part of the effort and hundreds of events will shine a light on the issue worldwide. And what remains is an eminently solvable problem. In fact, a report released today by experts at Johns Hopkins University shows that 15 developing countries alone account for 75 percent of all child pneumonia deaths – demonstrating the enormous opportunity we have to reduce child mortality by continuing our efforts in key corners of the world.
The good news is that the tools to prevent unnecessary child deaths are within our reach. Today, vaccines that prevent the leading cause of pneumonia are in use in countries around the world, and being made available to qualifying developing countries at a fraction of their standard cost. Antibiotics to treat pneumonia cases that do occur are also available and critical to saving lives, and leading global health groups announced a plan today to dramatically increase access to amoxicillin, the recommended pneumonia treatment for young children, in the ten countries with the most pneumonia deaths. Realizing that vaccines and treatments require frontline health workers to administer, organizations are also collaborating to stem the shortage of at least one million frontline health workers, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia.
The takeaway? Tools, treatments and human resources can be mobilized to save lives, and the ability to prevent millions of preventable child deaths is within reach, as long as we maintain the political will to continue the funding necessary to give the world’s children a fighting chance.
The choices the president and the new Congress make to protect Americans are crucial. At the same time, our international political leadership and moral leadership align when our global children’s health programs protect innocent lives in the world’s poorest places. With the election behind us and many tough choices ahead, we urge American leaders to remain steadfast in support of investments that protect children. Doing so will help ensure a better world for us all.
Frist, M.D., is a former Republican United States Senator from the state of Tennessee; he served as Senate Majority Leader from 2003-2007. A former heart and lung surgeon, he currently serves as chairman of Save the Children's Newborn and Child Survival Campaign.
Richardson is a former Democratic United States Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy, and Governor of New Mexico. He currently serves on the Board of the Best Shot Foundation, dedicated to mobilizing resources to end preventable childhood disease worldwide.