Geneva, 11 November 2010 - Superheroes, stars, politicians, health workers, development experts, children and thousands of concerned citizens around the world will on Friday 12 November mark World Pneumonia Day, highlighting the world's leading killer of children under five years old.
This is a terrible injustice for 1.5 million children every year, the vast majority of whom were born and live in a developing country, who are dying from a disease that is largely preventable and treatable.
Helen Evans, interim CEO, GAVI
More than 1.5 million children die every year from pneumonia, more than from any other disease. But a million children's lives a year could be saved by simple interventions such as vaccination against the most common causes of pneumonia and treatment with antibiotics.
The GAVI Alliance is a founder member of the Global Coalition against Child Pneumonia, formed last year to raise awareness and to encourage governments to support the implementation of a range of proven measures to prevent and treat pneumonia. With more than 100 members, the Global Coalition against Child Pneumonia launched the first World Pneumonia Day last November.
Around the world this year, people are being asked to wear blue jeans on World Pneumonia Day to express solidarity with the cause, because blue is the theme color of the Coalition; Geneva is set to turn its iconic 140-metre fountain, the Jet d'Eau, blue; a team of superhero "PneumoniaFighters!" in figure-hugging blue costumes are set to appear at strategic locations around Washington DC, as well as making an appearance in Geneva.
In London, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia will hold a roundtable briefing at the House of Lords on 16 November.
Star of television drama Grey's Anatomy Kevin McKidd is the World Pneumonia Day spokesperson. He urged ordinary people to do their part to help defeat pneumonia. "We don't have to lose this fight" said McKidd, "Become a PneumoniaFighter! and help save a child's life today."
The World Pneumonia Day website is compiling "PneumoniaGrams", personal messages from ordinary citizens around the globe to world leaders that call for action in the fight against pneumonia. McKidd's messages are driving thousands of people online to send "PneumoniaGrams", and make donations to fight pneumonia.
The day will be marked in dozens of developing countries, where 98.5 percent of child pneumonia deaths occur.
"This is a terrible injustice for 1.5 million children every year, the vast majority of whom were born and live in a developing country, who are dying from a disease that is largely preventable and treatable," said Helen Evans, interim Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance. "New vaccines exist that can reduce the number of deaths enormously and our aim is to make them available to all children in the poorest countries."
With help from its partners such as WHO, UNICEF and developing country governments, the GAVI Alliance plans to introduce new vaccines against pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of pneumonia, into more than 40 of the world's lowest-income countries by 2015.
But the roll-out of pneumococcal vaccines is contingent on funding and GAVI is working to raise an additional US$ 4.3 billion by 2015 in order to introduce pneumococcal vaccines, as well as new vaccines against rotavirus (the leading cause of severe infant diarrhoea).
When you ask people to name the number one killer of children, hardly anyone fingers the culprit accurately.
Cokie Roberts, US political commentator and Save the Children Trustee
GAVI has already funded vaccination for more than 60 million children against Hib (Haemophilus influenzae b), another major cause of pneumonia - a programme that continues.
"I am convinced that part of the reason we don't already have the full funding to introduce vaccines against pneumococcal disease is because most people simply do not know about the impact of pneumonia and that the solutions already exist, including vaccines," said GAVI's Helen Evans. "We hope that once more of their citizens know about pneumonia and begin to speak up about it, donor governments around the world will fund our immunisation programmes."
"When you ask people to name the number one killer of children, hardly anyone fingers the culprit accurately," said US political commentator and Save the Children Trustee Cokie Roberts. Ms Roberts, who will host a roundtable discussion with President Obama's Health Policy Advisor Ezekiel Emanuel on pneumonia in Washington DC today, added, "It's time to raise awareness of this killer so that we can beat it."
As a result of GAVI's work since 2000, more than 257 million children have been immunised against life-threatening diseases and 5.4 million lives have been saved.
Only by intensifying efforts to address pneumonia can the world hope to make significant progress on reaching Millennium Development Goal 4, the two-thirds reduction of child mortality by 2015.