Nowhere near enough is being done to reduce the number of deaths and suffering caused by childhood pneumonia, according to experts who have been speaking in South Africa.

A discussion held at the International Paediatric Association Congress in Johannesburg saw GlaxoSmithKline join with Save the Children and the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and control of Pneumonia (GAPP) call for more efforts to be made in reducing the global burden of pneumonia. They argue that more action is essential to reach the United Nations’ Millennium Goal 4 (there are eight in total, topped by eradicating extreme poverty and hunger) by 2015, namely to cut the number of children under five who die each year by two-thirds, compared to 1990.

The meeting noted that over 1.5 million children die from pneumonia globally each year; more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, and it is not only a problem in the developing world. Two years ago in Europe, 20,727 children under five died of the disease.

Tedbabe Degefie, head of health for Save the Children in Ethiopia, said that “proven low-cost solutions such as vaccines and antibiotics exist to stop children dying and suffering from pneumonia, but they are simply not being deployed on the scale needed to tackle the problem in the world’s poorest countries”. She added that “what we need is the will from politicians, the public, non-governmental organisations and industry to make achieving the Millennium Development Goal 4 a reality”.

Mathuram Santosham of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a contributor to GAPP noted that vaccination is “one of the key pneumonia control strategies,” but he added that “there is a huge disparity between where kids are dying and where effective vaccines are routinely used” Prof Santosham concluded by saying that “this is not acceptable. We need to close the gap by improving access to life-saving vaccines for the children that need them most”.