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Airing pneumonia’s dirty laundry, one story at a time

Lauren Newhouse,Communications Officer at PATH

This year, the 11th International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases(ISPPD-11) was full of these kinds of stories. Stories of hope, sorrow, and science—all from renowned and upcoming researchers and doctors in the pneumonia and pneumococcal field. They came from far and wide to the symposium in Melbourne, Australia, in pursuit of a shared goal—to defeat a complex adversary, the pneumococcus. Pneumococcus is the most common cause of deadly childhood pneumonia and can also lead to infections of the brain (meningitis) and blood (sepsis). When we refer to pneumonia and diarrhea together, it’s because they are the leading killers of children, and fortunately for us, they share some of the same weaknesses, like vaccines and clean environments.

We knew this group of experts had powerful stories to be tapped and set out to turn the spigot. What came out was not a drip, but a deluge. We collected nearly 50 stories from participating experts from at least 16 countries. They displayed their stories on our clothesline—airing the dirty laundry on pneumonia and pneumococcus for all to see.

Their tales tell of saving and losing patients; seeing loved ones battle pneumococcal disease; advancing lifesaving science; and striving to make tools like vaccines (existing pneumococcal conjugate vaccines [PCVs] and new vaccines) and antibiotics available to everyone, rich or poor. Some stories celebrate progress to date and inspire hope, others emphasise the scientific rigour of tackling pneumococcal disease and pneumonia, and some will simply make you weep.

“An infant was brought in to me with signs of severe pneumonia. The baby was admitted and fortunately recovered. However, later we discovered that the baby had not had any pneumococcal vaccinations. Pneumococcal vaccines are key to pneumonia prevention.”

~ Dr. Mariama Badjie Hydara, The Gambia


“I am a physician. Twenty-two years back, when I worked as a medical officer in a remote primary health center, I was unfortunate to witness a six-month-old child die from respiratory infection in front of my eyes. As they took the child away, the father asked, “Could we not have protected our child in any way? Is there no vaccine?” I had no answer. Today, India has introduced pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. I HAVE AN ANSWER NOW.”

~ Dr. Raj Shankar Ghosh, India.


“This is my son Dean. He was 587 days old when he contracted pneumococcal meningitis. It took six hours for this disease to take his life. Please don’t stop trying to eliminate pneumococcal meningitis.”

~ Dean’s mum, Australia


Pneumonia can have a substantial economic impact to the healthcare systems in low- and middle-income countries, households, and society in general. We did an economic study in Nepal that told a human story about the extent that a disease like pneumonia has on households—how parents of children with pneumonia can go into debt selling their assets to pay for their children’s antibiotic treatment. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine can substantially reduce the proportion of households facing catastrophic expenditure and poverty.

~ Dagna Constenla, Nepal


“I am a pediatrician from Pakistan. I have seen the game change since 2000. Millions of lives have been saved. Third world children have been saved from invasive pneumococcal disease. In places where medical help and antibiotics are scant, vaccine is a blessing.”

~ Dr. Missarrat Hussain, Pakistan


This blog originally appeared on the DefeatDD site here. You can also the full set of the portraits here

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