After years as the forgotten killer of children, pneumonia is finally going to have its day. Literally. Monday November 2nd is the first ever World Pneumonia Day and by all appearances this could be the tipping point for this disease. What makes me think so?
For the longest time, no one knew pneumonia and few realized that it was global health’s most solvable problem. We had situation after situation where global health leaders discussed global health without ever mentioning the leading killer of children.
But we’re beginning to see evidence of changes. In the last week, we’ve seen that Bill and Melinda Gates know pneumonia (see their TV interview with ABC news’ Charlie Gibson). David Lane, president of ONE, knows pneumonia – and you know that if ONE works on it that U2’s Bono must know pneumonia. Former Senate Majority leader Bill Frist and Rwandan Minister of Health Richard Sezibera – physicians who have become government leaders – published an editorial in this week’s issue of The Lancet calling for more emphasis on pneumonia.
On Monday in New York City, I’ll be joining international musical star Angélique Kidjo, ABC News’ Rich Besser, and international economic guru Jeff Sachs at a Global Pneumonia Summit where we’ll issue a call to action and highlight a three-pronged approach to pneumonia control and prevention that can dramatically reduce pneumonia’s impact worldwide.
As nice as it is to have international leaders recognize pneumonia the reason I think that we’re at the tipping point is because of the response I’m seeing from the very countries where pneumonia is the leading killer of children. In Shanghai, China, recently I was approached by a pediatrician from Bandung, Indonesia who detailed her plans for public events with the media on World Pneumonia Day. A few days later I got an email from a colleague in Kinshasa who arranged a soccer match between local journalists and hospital staff that was followed by interviews that appeared on national TV in Congo. Most recently, it’s the walk for pneumonia in the capital of Nigeria, Abuja. This list goes on and includes The Gambia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Nigeria, and from India, a statement from the Health Minister!
These countries represent the very places on earth where nearly all child deaths from pneumonia occur. The range of innovative ideas is all the more encouraging because they come from the local voices that are key to sustaining any progress made on world pneumonia day. And that is why it feels like the tipping point.
Pneumonia takes the life of a child every 15 seconds. You can make a difference on world pneumonia day by doing something different from your everyday routine. You can send a letter to your elected officials, or let the leaders of your local church, synagogue or mosque know about pneumonia. You can wear blue jeans on Monday or get involved in the dodgeball tournament being organized by the Best Shot foundation. Make a donation to the GAVI Alliance or Save the Children or sign the world pneumonia day pledge. Or better yet generate your own ideas.
But in taking a few minutes from your Monday know that you’ll be joining thousands of people around the world – from Bandung to Brazil - and who knows, maybe you’ll help make this the tipping point for pneumonia control and prevention.