Focusing on "The Missing Piece" – the neglect of pneumonia

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Monday, 12 November 2018

Dr Michael Head is an RSTMH member and Senior Research Fellow, Research Investments in Global Health study at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton.

It is World Pneumonia Day on Monday 12 November. Pneumonia is the leading infectious killer worldwide by quite some considerable distance.

Revised estimates from the 2017 Global Burden of Disease study suggests over 2 million people worldwide die per year from pneumonia. Even in a world where most deaths are now related to non-communicable diseases, pneumonia still stands out as being high burden.

Pneumonia also stands out as being rather neglected. Rates are coming down globally, but slowly, far too slowly.

The 2018 Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Progress Report assessing development in 15 high-burden countries highlights how pneumococcal vaccination coverage is overall improving, but in most countries is still below the recommended target of 90% coverage.

Robust health systems necessary

Countries are mostly failing to meet their targets, such as access to antibiotics and appropriate healthcare. Among the countries measured, Tanzania and Bangladesh were making best progress, while Somalia, Chad and Nigeria ranked very poorly.

Building a robust health system that is able to integrate the urgent health needs of the poorest populations is vital for all these nations. Health and inequality are vital components of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Low- and middle-income countries are very unlikely to be able to meet their SDG targets if they don’t address the key high-burden childhood diseases such as pneumonia.

Vital reading for global health stakeholders

Alongside the Progress Report, there is a new publication being released on World Pneumonia Day that summarises the global burden of disease, the lack of financing associated with pneumonia and the low levels of research funding awarded to pneumonia compared with other infections.

The report has been written by Leith Greenslade, of Just Actions, and is available on the Stop Pneumonia website. It is vital reading for all global health stakeholders, and it summarises a somewhat bleak picture on the lack of progress with bringing levels of pneumonia right down.

The report includes data from my project, the Research Investments in Global Health study. Earlier this year, we produced Sizing Up Pneumonia Research, a publication that describes $3 billion of research funding from 2000-2015 focused on pneumonia.

Investment in pneumonia far too low

Overall, compared to the burden of disease and estimates of funding levels for other infections, levels of investment in pneumonia are far too low. I am also delighted and honoured to have been nominated as a "Pneumonia Fighter" for 2018, with the superpower of "research"!

It’s been a privilege to be connected to so many excellent people, and I do hope our research (led by the Clinical Informatics Research Unit at the University of Southampton, UK) can be both useful and inspiring to others.

So, please do read the latest reports covering pneumonia, stay in touch with the latest activity by joining the Pneumonia Innovations Network, and let us try to bring the global health community together to introduce knowledge and interventions that can tackle this dreadful disease.

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