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Why Care About Pneumonia and Diarrhea?

I'm a self-admitted wonk and a bit of a skeptic – there’s no denying it. So when I heard the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF were launching a new global plan, I wasn’t excited until I heard it was about integrating approaches to tackle the two leading killers of children: pneumonia and diarrhea. Surprisingly, it's the first of its kind.

The Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD) launched today along with a powerful Lancet series charting a course to prevent 2 million child deaths each year – and end deaths from these diseases by 2025.

What matters isn't necessarily contained in the pages of the plan, but will rely on taking ACTION to implement the plan. Read more below.

Why do we care about pneumonia and diarrhea?

Pneumonia and diarrhea – two diseases which may not seem deadly in developed countries – are the leading killers of children under the age of five worldwide. Over 90% of these deaths are concentrated in poor countries, with the poorest and most vulnerable children most at risk. Nearly two million children each year die from the two diseases despite affordable interventions to protect, prevent, and treat children being readily available.

Why does this plan matter?

The two diseases, traditionally fought separately, have nearly identical interventions. For the first time, this plan builds the case for why it is smart and effective to treat pneumonia and diarrhea as one, and recommends concrete actions for national governments to prioritize investments and harmonize approaches.

What is this integrated approach?

Integrating efforts to protect children, prevent them from becoming sick, and treating them if they fall ill can look like this:

  • Children can be protected from disease with improved nutrition.
  • Disease can be prevented with vaccines and access to safe water, sanitation, and better household air quality.
  • Children can be treated with integrated case management, and by providing oral rehydration and zinc for diarrhea, and amoxicillin and oxygen for pneumonia.

What needs to be done?

Despite knowing what works, coverage levels are shockingly low for interventions with the greatest impact. While ACTION has advocated for expanded access to vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhea for years, coverage is far from universal. Furthermore, only about one-third of infants receive appropriate treatment for pneumonia and diarrhea, and only 39% of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life—which boosts immunity and helps protect children from both these diseases.

We know what works, but we now need to focus on delivering these key interventions in an integrated and equitable way.

How can you take ACTION?

1. Learn more about the GAPPD.  Still have questions? Check out this FAQ.

2. Understand the scientific rationale behind integrating approaches to pneumonia and diarrhea prevention and control

3. Read civil society’s statement on the plan

4. Join the Conversation

5. Take ACTION in your country:

  • Donor Country:
    • Ask your aid agency how they are supporting integrated approaches to prevent and control pneumonia and diarrhea
    • Advocate for increased political will and investments in interventions that work
      • Nutrition – exclusive breastfeeding, micronutrients
      • New vaccines through the GAVI Alliance and stronger routine immunization systems.
      • Health care workers, human resources for health
      • Access to treatment – amoxicillin, zinc, oral rehydration salts
  • Developing Country:
    • Check out this advocacy toolkit to develop a country-tailored approach to ensure your government tackles pneumonia and diarrhea as one.

Quotes from a Statement by Professor Fred Were, President, Eastern African Paediatric Association and Kenyan Pediatric Association, Kenya

“On behalf of the Eastern African Paediatric Association, I congratulate all the stakeholders that were involved in the development of the GAPPD...

...I’d like to express my support for this Global Plan and my conviction that its implementation at the country level will be worthwhile.

...With the release of the GAPPD, I strongly urge countries and donors to prioritize the fight against pneumonia and diarrhea through integrated policies, programs and increased resources.

...Finally, as a child health champion, I remain steadfast and urge paediatrics, civil society, private sector and the governments’ commitment to see the success of GAPPD, both nationally and globally."