Another Disease in the Crowd? Pneumonia back in the spotlight on World Pneumonia Day

Nearly every disease, cause, and social issue claims a calendar date for itself to raise awareness, from well-known causes such as HIV/AIDS and cancer to somewhat more obscure issues, such as parental alienation.  World Pneumonia Day, which was yesterday, is no exception.  It, like many others, came amid general fanfare, advocacy, and, well, awareness, but it will undoubtedly step back into the crowd of causes competing for attention and funding.

But should it?

In this climate of fiscal austerity, foundations and organizations competing for an ever narrowing stream of donor funding.  Times are tight, so each disease has to make its case, so to speak.  Without a doubt, all of them are worth funding, but none of them will get the funding they need.  The question, then, becomes one of priority: how do donors decide how to make their dollars count?

Pneumonia can make a compelling case for being at the front of the line.  It is simultaneously the world’s number one killer of children under five and one of the world’s most preventable diseases.  We have effective vaccines and proven interventions, including reducing indoor air pollution (which will also make the clean cookstoves people happy) and increasing breastfeeding during the first six months (which will make the breastfeeding advocates and MCNH people happy).

Unfortunately, the impact of pneumonia and the ease of treating it do not diminish the importance of other diseases.  Many NTDs, for example, are extremely debilitating and only cost of a few cents to treat.  Tuberculosis is re-emerging with a vengeance and frightening antibiotic resistance. And recent shortfalls in contributions to the Global Fund endanger the gains we have made against HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria.

So what is a cause to do? Own its awareness day and get the word out, which is precisely what the major players, like the GAVI Alliance and IVAC at Johns Hopkins, have done.  Dr. Orin Levine is making his usual rounds.  IVAC
has published a report card on the progress made by the 15 countries with the highest rates of childhood pneumonia, which examines their vaccination, treatment, and breastfeeding rates, in addition to progress in reducing pneumonia-related mortality.  Extra points for getting their recent
vaccine drive in Nicaragua on PBS
, too.

I am no judge of which global health causes should be prioritized when it comes to funding – but then again, who among us is?  All advocates can do is make their own individual cases.  Let us hope that pneumonia can get the respect it deserves among the other worthy global health causes and not just go back to being another disease in the crowd after World Pneumonia Day.

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