Exclusive Report: Taking Down Pneumonia, the Top Killer of Kids

Available, accessible and affordable vaccines are vital for reducing the prevalent causes of pneumonia, a preventable disease that is the No. 1 killer worldwide of kids under 5, reported Keith Klugman who leads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts against pneumonia.

During last week’s talk at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Klugman shared the latest research findings, clearly revealing what is known and isn’t while outlining data-driven opportunities and priorities. He also addressed key risk factors—notably malnutrition—that are drivers of pneumonia mortality.

Klugman emphasized the need for developing a platform for maternal immunization to protect mothers and newborns from pathogens. He cited data showing that 44% of all child deaths happen in neonates, with a tragic proportion of that on the first day or in the first month after birth.

Because more than 99 percent of childhood deaths from pneumonia occur in the world’s poorest countries, with the greatest burden in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, Klugman focused on the progress, and lack thereof, in those regions.

Despite a heartening 59.9% decline in childhood pneumonia deaths in India, that country continues to hold the No. 1 ranking globally, he said. Nigeria and Pakistan are 2nd and 3rd. China dropped from No. 2 to No. 5, and Bangladesh is also making progress. Meanwhile, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola have worsening rates.

Klugman is a leading expert on antibiotic resistance in pneumonia pathogens who helped develop the pneumococcal vaccine that is part of the immunization regimen for children born in the US and is being rolled out globally.

—Maryalice Yakutchik

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