November 10, 2017
By Swati Sudarsan & Mica Williams, IVAC
World Pneumonia Day, established in 2009, is marked annually on November 12th to recognize one of the top causes of death in young children around the world. It is a day when the global health community reflects on child health successes, re-evaluates the work yet to be done, and renews a shared commitment to saving these lives and achieving the global goals.
This World Pneumonia Day, a central message is that we must increase our investments in strategic interventions that protect child health. We cannot improve child health without addressing pneumonia, but we also cannot reach our goals in pneumonia prevention without improving overall child health. Just last week, the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released their 2017 Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report, which shows two sides of a story: the strides taken to reduce child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea have halved the death count from these two illnesses between 2000 to 2015. Yet, 1.5 million children continue to die from these two common illnesses each year.1
Where we have invested, we have seen much success. In communities around the world, increased access to vaccines, treatment, and prevention measures have saved young lives. We can and must energize these efforts. We have the tools on hand to prevent most of these deaths, but the world’s poorest children continue to lack access to these interventions. In fact, just 15 countries hold 70% of the burden of disease. While reaching the hardest to reach will take more efforts, more investments, and more resources, we must also keep in mind that these are the people that stand to benefit the most. We cannot drive down numbers without addressing these vulnerable populations.
One of the most important and cost-effective preventative measures against these two diseases is handwashing with soap. Studies have shown that children who practice regular handwashing are 50% less likely to contract pneumonia and 53% less likely to incur diarrhea.2 Children washing their hands at critical times throughout the day (e.g., after using the bathroom, before eating, after playing outside) decreases their risk of exposure to bacteria and other microbial agents which can cause pneumonia.3 The investment and promotion of WASH and handwashing through increasing access to soap, as well as encouraging behavior change, are needed to implement this practice worldwide.
While handwashing alone cannot stop pneumonia and diarrhea infections, it is an effective and accessible intervention for vulnerable populations. When combined with interventions like immunization, proper nutrition, antibiotic treatment, oral rehydration therapy, and exclusive breastfeeding, we can lower the incidence of these two diseases. In light of Global Handwashing Day, and World Pneumonia Day, we must recognize the importance of handwashing and continue to promote and invest in this intervention to reach our targets in the fight against pneumonia and diarrhea.
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© 2017 The Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP).