by Bill Frist, M.D.
World Pneumonia Day Reception Remarks
By Senator Bill Frist, M.D.
Today, I joined Save the Children, the US Coalition for Child Survival, the World Pneumonia Day Coalition and Vicks at a breakfast reception on Capitol Hill to recognize the first annual World Pneumonia Day, a day for people everywhere to turn awareness into action to control the #1 killer of children under age 5: pneumonia. Each year, a disease which often starts as a cold, claims the lives of nearly 2 million children under age 5 -- more than malaria, AIDS and measles combined. Despite this staggering death toll, childhood pneumonia has never been a global health priority, and the current basic maternal child health programs --that need to be in place to control the disease-- are under-funded.
Pneumonia is easy to diagnose and treat if you have the right tools, but most children in developing countries don't get the care they need. We could save more than one million young lives each year with affordable health measures -- like proper nutrition and breastfeeding, antibiotics and vaccines. It's a matter of making these solutions more available to the children who need them.
As chair of Save the Children's Survive to 5 campaign and in my work with other humanitarian organizations, I've traveled to community-based health projects in Asia and Africa. I've seen firsthand how U.S. government investments in training community-based health workers in pneumonia prevention and treatment have significantly improved child health and saved lives.
In countries as different as Bangladesh and Mozambique, families face virtually the same obstacles to getting care for their children. Vaccines that we take for granted here to protect our children are not available in many of the countries that most need them. GAVI needs significantly greater resources to help countries integrate the new vaccines against pneumonia as well as diarrhea. A community-based approach to child health works. But if we are to make progress in combating pneumonia and other childhood illnesses, we need to scale up these efforts.
World Pneumonia Day is a call to action from national leaders, donors and international health organizations to rally their forces to control this disease. The time is ripe for action. Thanks to WHO and UNICEF's Global Action Plan against Pneumonia (GAPP) released on World Pneumonia Day, November 2nd, we will have a realistic six-year plan for the worldwide scale-up to control pneumonia, based on the following:
· protecting children by creating lower-risk environments;
· preventing children from developing the disease through vaccination; and
· treating children who become ill.
The United States has played and must continue to play a leading role internationally to save the lives of mothers, newborns and children through the protection, prevention and treatment of pneumonia. Current U.S. spending on maternal and child health, which includes spending on pneumonia, is just $495 million a year. The U.S. should at least double that investment, encourage other industrialized nations to do the same at next year's G8 summit in Canada. G8 leaders should declare that no country with a credible plan for newborn, child and maternal health should be thwarted for lack of donor resources.
We are pleased to see that child survival is a strong priority for the U.S. Congress. The Global Child Survival Act (S. 1966) was just introduced in the Senate, and the Newborn, Child and Mother Survival Act of 2009 (HR 1410) has 80 cosponsors in the House. What can you do? I strongly encourage you to call your congressional representatives today and ask them to cosponsor these important bills.