Fighting pneumonia might not be as "sexy" as fighting a single virus such as HIV, but more needs to be done to wipe out the No. 1 killer of children in the world, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says.
Mr. Frist, a former Republican senator from Tennessee, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced a joint effort with nearly 100 health organizations and academic institutions worldwide to fight pneumonia.
It's a global battle that's "not as sexy" as combating the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, but after six years of success focused on fighting HIV and AIDS, the United States needs to expand its fight to help focus on pneumonia, the heart-lung transplant surgeon said.
* Pneumonia kills more than 4 million people every year.
* Half the deaths occur among children under age 5.
* For every child who dies of pneumonia in a developed country, more than 2,000 children die in a developing country.
* Pneumonia is one of the reasons people die from influenza viruses, including H1N1.
* In Tennessee, eight to 10 people died from an influenza-type illness or pneumonia in the last few weeks - an average number during flu season.
Sources: World Pneumonia Day Coalition, Tennessee Department of Health
As part of today's first World Pneumonia Day, the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia is promoting a new outreach effort to save more children's lives from the deadly bacteria.
The World Health Organization and the United Nation's Children's Fund, which are providing technical support for the coalition, also will release a Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia.
The six-year plan is a three-pronged approach based on "protecting, preventing and treating," said Dr. Orin Levine, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"Pneumonia is a main killer of children, but it doesn't have to be," he said.
While most children in the United States don't die from pneumonia because of the vaccines and antibiotics that are available, many countries with high death rates from it can't afford the medicines, Dr. Levine said.
In such countries, pneumonia can develop after a child contracts measles, whooping cough or malaria, according to the World Pneumonia Day Web site.
The new plan will protect children by creating low-risk environments, preventing them from developing the disease through vaccinations and treating children who become ill, Mr. Frist said.
He is advocating support for the Newborn, Child and Mother Survival Act, an expansion of the Global Child Survival Act, to allocate more money to worldwide efforts to stop deaths from pneumonia.
At least 1 million children's lives - half the number of children killed each year by pneumonia - could be saved each year if countries had access to vaccines and antibiotics, said Mary Beth Powers, campaign chief of Save the Children's Survive to 5 campaign, a leading organization supporting the coalition.
"We've known for years how to save children from pneumonia," Ms. Powers said. "For millions of families, getting access to health care is half the battle."
In the United States, people have access to treatment from physicians and hospitals, but that's not always available in developing countries, Ms. Powers said.
One of the coalition's goals is to work with health care workers to get them the training and the tools they need.
"We have a precious moment to prevent pneumonia," Dr. Levine said. "But we need to raise the awareness of the community."