The aid organisation is publishing a major report, Fighting for Breath, to mark the launch of its global effort against pneumonia, which aims to save a million lives in the next five years.
The report shows that pneumonia, 'the forgotten child killer', is responsible for the deaths of more children under five than any other disease. It kills two children in this age group every minute—more than malaria, diarrhoea and measles combined.
More than 80 percent of the victims are children under two years old, many with immune systems weakened by malnutrition or insufficient breastfeeding, and unable to fight the infection. Infants are at their most vulnerable in the first weeks of life.
Save the Children is calling for a summit of world leaders to galvanise action and cut the toll from pneumonia.
The organisation wants to see:
- Cheaper vaccines to prevent pneumonia and more investment in immunisation;
- Governments adopting Pneumonia Action Plans that provide universal access to health workers trained to diagnose accurately and early;
- Governments and aid donors ensuring that life-saving antibiotics are available;
- Public-private partnerships to expand provision of the oxygen needed to help children struggling to breathe.
A course of the antibiotic Amoxicillin that costs 52 cents can save a child who is suffering from pneumonia in three to five days. But it is not available in many medical facilities in the most affected countries, including Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"This is a disease that leaves desperately vulnerable children fighting for breath and their parents coping with anxiety and, all too often, the grief and trauma that come with loss,"
Save the Children UK chief executive and lead author of the report Kevin Watkins said.
"It is indefensible that we allow so many young lives to be destroyed by a disease we have the knowledge and resources to defeat."
Typical of the victims is a one-year-old girl named Hakaroom who was so ill by the time her mother brought her into a Save the Children clinic in South Sudan that doctors said she would have died within 24 hours without treatment.
Video footage shows her chest heaving as Hakaroom, in obvious distress, struggles for every breath. A few days later, antibiotics had transformed her prospects. She made a full recovery and returned to her family in a rural community.
Save the Children is calling for 166 million under-twos to be immunised and for action to help 400 million worldwide with no access to health care. Half of all mothers in Africa have no health care around the time of birth.
Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General and Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, who is backing the global effort, said the cost of vaccines — $9.15 in poor countries — was too high.
'Pharmaceutical companies, governments, aid donors and UN agencies need to come together to make the vaccine prices more affordable to save more lives,'
Mr Annan said.
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