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.

Global Health News Last Week

May 18 was HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.


  • Hundreds of Kenyan AIDS activists held a protest on 18 May in the capital, Nairobi to demand that the government meet its commitment to increase annual health and HIV funding.
  • In response to the mutual expulsion of diplomats, the UK’s DFID announced that it has frozen new aid to Malawi.
  • DDT has made a controversial re-appearance in Uganda.



  • The World Health Organization has just launched a new web-based information resource tool that should be of interest to many in global health and development community, the Global Health Observatory.
  • According to the World Health Organization, the worldwide prevalence of obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2008.
  • New research has found that a variant in one gene can lead to a 30 percent lower risk of developing cerebral malaria.
  • A new study from Bangladesh concludes that most of the world’s pregnant women don’t need vitamin A supplements.
  • American scientists have tested a treatment regimen for tuberculosis which will reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the full treatment as compared to current plans.
  • A new report from the Guttmacher Institute finds that that 7 in 10 women in Sub Saharan Africa, south central Asia and south east Asia who want to avoid pregnancy, but are not using modern methods give reasons for non-use which suggest available methods do not fulfill their needs.
  • Average life expectancy across much of the world — except Iraq and South Africa — is steadily climbing and infant deaths dropped across the world during the first decade of the 21st century, according to figures released by the World Health Organization.
  • The Clinton Health Access Initiative and Gates Foundation have teamed up to support research into developing a cheaper version of the drug Tenofovir.


  • China has reduced its AIDS mortality by two-thirds since it began distributing free antiretroviral drugs in 2002; however, the improvements were seen largely in patients who acquired HIV through blood transfusion, rather than through sex or drug use. On a darker note, Chinese authorities ordered an AIDS activists’ web site shut down after it had published an open letter from a retired senior official concerning news restrictions placed on a 20th-century public health scandal.
  • Dr. Orin Levine looks at a disturbing global trend: Infectious killers that had been beaten back by aggressive immunization efforts are making a comeback in places long thought to be safe havens.


The IH Blog was featured in the “Buzzing in the Blogs” section of the Healthy Dose this week! Thanks to Tom Murphy for reading and tweeting us!