World Pneumonia Day

Forum of International Respiratory Societies calls for collaborative efforts to fight pneumonia – focusing on those at greatest risk

12 November 2022

This World Pneumonia Day, 12 November 2022, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), of which [INSERT MEMBER ORGANIZATION] is a founding member, is calling on governments and other stakeholders to take urgent action to tackle pneumonia – focusing on those who are at greatest risk of severe illness.

The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution, and poor living conditions associated with conflict and climate change have contributed to pneumonia numbers – placing millions at risk of infection and even of death.

In 2021, the estimated burden of deaths from respiratory infections, including COVID-19, was a staggering 6 million people.1

Pneumonia claimed the lives of 2.5 million, including 672,000 children, in 2019 alone, according to the Global Burden of Disease.2 That’s:

  • One person dying every 13 seconds
  • One child under 5 dying every 47 seconds
  • One adult over 70 years dying every 26 seconds

Most deaths occur in the poorest populations in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Low vaccination rates or lack of immunisation, malnutrition, or exposure to cigarette smoke and air pollution are key factors that increase susceptibility to pneumonia and to severe illness.

Older adults exposed to air pollution especially from burning fossil fuels and smoking are also at risk. Almost half of the estimated 1.6 million pneumonia deaths among adults aged over 50 years are attributable to air pollution or smoking.3

To prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia, this World Pneumonia Day, FIRS is calling on governments to:

  • Strengthen health systems to deliver interventions which reduce pneumonia deaths, including provision of effective vaccines, antibiotics and oxygen delivery systems for all.
  • Implement sustainable interventions that protect against, prevent, and treat pneumonia across age groups.
  • Support research into prevention and treatment strategies such as simple, low-cost point-of-care diagnostics for pneumonia and cost-effective oxygen delivery systems.
  • Raise awareness about the risk factors for pneumonia
  • Ensure equitable and sustained access to prevention and treatment strategies globally.

In addition, vaccine education can be a pivotal tool in reducing pneumonia-related deaths. There have been important advances with new effective vaccines available against pneumonia including pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and vaccines against SARSCoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, PCV coverage dropped in 46 of 195 countries4 and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has predicted a large increase in child deaths if urgent action is not taken to vaccinate these children. Currently only 51% of the world’s children receive PCV.5

Pneumonia may have long-term consequences. Children who have pneumonia in early life have an increased risk of developing chronic lung disease such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) into adulthood.
Lack of medical oxygen has compounded the pneumonia emergency with LMICs bearing the brunt of oxygen shortages and related deaths.

“Although lack of oxygen has always been a key issue in LMICs, COVID highlighted this gap, with oxygen unavailability and related deaths mainly affecting LMICs,” said FIRS President Professor Heather Zar.

“There are an estimated 7 million children hospitalised with pneumonia each year who require oxygen and studies show that better oxygen systems can reduce mortality from childhood pneumonia by 50% or more.”

Media contact: Fiona Salter

1.Global Burden of Disease, 2019 and WHO COVID-19 Dashboard.
2,3.Global Burden of Disease, 2019.
4, 5 Every Breath Counts analysis of WHO/UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage 2021, published in Time for a New Approach to Protecting Children Against the Leading Threats to Their Survival, July 2022.

Further information

FIRS recommended actions to prevent pneumonia and pneumonia deaths:

  • Vaccination programmes against the common germs that cause pneumonia such as pneumococcus, measles, Haemophilus Influenzae type b, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, influenza and SARS-CoV2 should be made available.
  • Good nutrition should be encouraged, including exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of life, adequate complementary feeding and Vitamin A supplementation which may protect children from getting pneumonia.
  • People of all ages should avoid and be protected from exposure to tobacco smoke and air pollution.
  • Effective strategies to reduce pneumonia, include the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, early use of antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected children, as well as cotrimoxazole prophylaxis for HIV-infected children.
  • All health services should ensure prompt access to antibiotics and oxygen therapy for those with pneumonia.

The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease report outlines major causes of respiratory disease and lays out recommendations for global action.

More on World Pneumonia Day from Stop

About the Forum of International Respiratory Societies:
The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) is an organisation comprised of the world’s leading international respiratory societies working together to improve lung health globally. The goal of FIRS is to unify and enhance efforts to improve lung health through the combined work of its more than 70,000 members globally.

FIRS comprises the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST), American Thoracic Society (ATS), the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR), Asociación Latino Americana De Tórax (ALAT), European Respiratory Society (ERS), International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases (The Union), Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS), the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), and the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD).

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