World Pneumonia Day- Where is Australia?

Posted on November 8, 2011


This Saturday, 12 November 2011 marks the third annual World Pneumonia Day. Pneumonia is the leading cause of childhood mortality worldwide, accounting for an estimated 2 million deaths each year in children under 5 years of age.[1] In fact, pneumonia claims more lives than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. The good news is that pneumonia is a preventable disease and existing tools such as vaccines and antibiotics have already led to the reduction of child mortality by 35% since 1990.[2] However, there is still a long way to go before achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing the under-five mortality two-thirds by 2015.

Sadly, it is the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged children who die from pneumonia, primarily due to a lack of basic health care. In order to prevent and treat pneumonia, we need to better understand what causes the disease, particularly in the developing world (hello PhD! More details sometime in the next three years). We also need a wide range of preventative strategies, taking into account environmental and socio-economic factors such as nutrition, hygiene, air-pollution and tobacco smoke. Finally, we need innovative ways to deliver vaccines and antibiotics to children in the greatest need. If Coca-Cola can reach the poorest, most remote communities in the world, surely governments and NGOs can do the same?

Most importantly, we cannot ignore what’s happening in our own backyard. In Australia, Indigenous children bear a disproportionate burden of the disease and are hospitalized with pneumonia 10 times more than non-Indigenous children![3] It is truly unfortunate that despite being one of the world’s richest countries, rates of pneumonia among our Indigenous children are comparable to those of children in developing countries.[4]

World Pneumonia Day was established in 2009 to raise awareness and advocate for global action against the disease. More than 25 events in 15 countries have been scheduled to celebrate the occasion this year. Surprisingly (or is it?), none in Australia. Perhaps next year, we’ll jump on the bandwagon and organize our own World Pneumonia Day event in Perth. We must continue to advocate for governments to meet (and increase!) their global health funding commitments. It’s time to close the gap and share our wealth (both nationally and globally).

In the meantime, who wants to Occupy Perth?

Check out the World Pneumonia Day website here for more information.

World Pneumonia Day Photo Contest Winner © 2006 Quique Bassat, Courtesy of Photoshare

This photo was submitted by one of my PhD supervisors Dr Quique Bassat. The child on the right was admitted to the district hospital in Manhiça, Mozambique with severe pneumonia.

Hope you all have a happy and reflective World Pneumonia Day!


1. Williams BG, Gouws E, Boschi-Pinto C, Bryce J, Dye C. Estimates of world-wide distribution of child deaths from acute respiratory infections. Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2002;2:25-32.
2. Sazawal S, Black RE. Effect of pneumonia case management on mortality in neonates, infants, and preschool children: a meta-analysis of community-based trials. Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2003;3:547-556.
3. Moore HC, Lehmann D, de Klerk N, Jacoby P, Richmond PC. Reduction in disparity for pneumonia hospitalisations between Australian indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2011 January 22, 2011:doi:10.1136/jech.2010.122762.
4. O’Grady K-A, Chang A. Lower respiratory infections in Australian Indigenous children. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2010;46:461-465.