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.

Announcement: World Pneumonia Day 2011 Grants

Below is an announcement calling for submissions for a grant from the 2011 Small Grants for World Pneumonia Day Advocacy program:

World Pneumonia Day 2011 is coming on November 12th and applications are being accepted for the 2011 Small Grants for World Pneumonia Day Advocacy program. Starting August 5, 2011, ideas are being sought for World Pneumonia Day events that tackle pneumonia where it has the biggest impact. Winning submissions will be eligible for grants of up to US$10,000 of funding. We are looking for well-thought out, innovative and impactful ideas that will put a spotlight on pneumonia as a problem that can be solved. Ideas will be evaluated on not only how well they promote change but also how well they incorporate this year’s World Pneumonia Day theme: “I am the face of pneumonia.” This theme strives to connect the personal, human stories that illustrate pneumonia’s direct impact. Find out more about the 2011 Small Grants Program and submit your application before the August 18th deadline!  Additional questions can be sent to
Full article and application at:

World Pneumonia Day

November 2, 2009 is the first annual World Pneumonia Day, recognizing the world’s leading child killer as a global public health issue. A network of nearly 100 IGO, NGO, research and academic institutions, foundations, and community-based organizations have joined forces to raise awareness and urge governments and policymakers to combat this preventable illness. Each year, over 2 million children under the age of five die from pneumonia and pneumonia-related complications.

Although this is a great venture, it is surprising to see that this is the first campaign of its kind. Being the leading killer of children, it is outrageous to know this disease is not only treatable, but preventable. It leads me to wonder: “Why hasn’t more been done?” Mary Beth Powers, Campaign Chief of Save the Children said in an interview about pneumonia, “The sad thing is this is a disease that is largely preventable, and highly treatable.” This is not a disease that requires decades of scientific research to find a cure. Watch the movie.

According to leading public health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, many deaths can be prevented through early vaccination, proper medication (antibiotics) and nutrition, and vitamin supplements, such as zinc that is not typically found in a lower-income diet. Read more about the cause, prevention and treatment of pneumonia at the World Pneumonia Day website.

I would encourage everyone to spread the word about World Pneumonia Day, so greater awareness is made. The coalition firmly believes these deaths can be avoided, and encourages others to join the fight against pneumonia by:

1. Signing the pledge to fight pneumonia
2. Joining the coalition
3. Donating to the cause
4. Educating others about pneumonia prevention, diagnosis and treatment
5. Participating in a World Pneumonia Day event