LONDON - To fight pneumonia, the world’s top killer of children, United Nations officials say they need $39 billion over the next six years.
On the first World Pneumonia Day today, the World Health Organization and UNICEF are releasing a global plan aiming to save more than 5 million children from dying of pneumonia by 2015.
The plea for money is less than what has been spent on more high-profile diseases such as AIDS, despite the fact pneumonia kills more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.
“This is very simply the biggest killer people never hear about,’’ said Orin Levine, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, who has advised WHO and UNICEF. Pneumonia accounts for about 20 percent of all child deaths every year; AIDS causes about 2 percent.
Some experts say the neglect of pneumonia is the health community’s own fault. “While public health experts have long known the scope and severity of the scourge, they haven’t effectively mobilized the backers to put pneumonia on the map,’’ said Mary Beth Powers, a child health specialist at Save the Children.
To change that, the UN is promoting a variety of strategies from vaccination to generalized interventions that address economic development. Pneumonia deaths are strongly linked to malnutrition and poverty.
While officials agree pneumonia deserves a much larger share of the global health budget, not all are convinced the UN plan is on target.
“Trillions of dollars have been spent on promoting economic development over the last 50 years, with very little evidence such spending has made any difference,’’ said Philip Stevens, of the International Policy Network, a London-based think tank.
“Much of the UN’s nearly $40 billion will be wasted unless they stick to vaccination.’’