1.3 million children die from pneumonia every year; of those children, 98% live in the developing world.
Before I met Twili Muendo, my perception of pneumonia never involved a child’s face.
In the summer of 2011, I volunteered in Nairobi, Kenya with the Lisha Mtoto Initiative, a small, community-based organization. Operating in Kibera – one of the largest slums in the world – it offers a safe space for the area’s children where they can access basic education and nutritious meals.
A shy but polite 4-year-old, Twili would come to Lisha Mtoto wearing a pink dress, in shoes too big for her tiny feet. She didn’t speak much during that summer but always had a quizzical, yet endearing, look on her face.
She seemed to be soaking up what was happening around her – the new foreigners who visited her school, the flashes of their cameras, and the strange glow sticks they brought one afternoon as gifts.
Just a few months after I left Kenya, Twili passed away from pneumonia.
When I received the news, I remember feeling for the first time the harsh reality of what it means to grow up as a child in a developing country. When I was in preschool, none of my classmates died of pneumonia. I wondered why, elsewhere in the world, such a preventable and treatable disease takes the lives of children before they even get the chance to live them.
A year later, I’m working at ACTION to raise awareness of pneumonia, the leading cause of death in children under the age of five. As part of World Pneumonia Day on November 12, ACTION will be pushing for greater international commitment to fight this deadly disease.
Policy makers can act to prevent, protect, and treat childhood pneumonia. We can urge our policy makers to fully support the GAVI Alliance – a public-private partnership that ensures the world’s poorest countries can access the lifesaving vaccines that prevent pneumonia. We can urge them to promote policies that support good nutrition for children, to boost their immune systems and protect them from contracting the disease. And finally, we can insist our governments’ support the efforts of frontline health care workers to provide quick and effective treatment to children when they become ill.
Join us in counting down to World Pneumonia Day, when we’ll be taking action to ensure the 1.3 million children like Twili will have a shot at reaching their fifth birthday.