New Hope to Prevent the World’s #1 Killer of Children

Nov 10, 2011 11:08pm

By: Carrie Halperin, ABC News

The world’s leading cause of deaths for children under age five is a disease that can be cured with a simple dose of antibiotics costing only $1:  pneumonia.  But  in many parts of the world, getting sick children to a health care facility to be treated is one of the biggest obstacles.


Save the Children photo 1 Lancet pneumonia study4 300x225  New Hope to Prevent the Worlds #1 Killer of Children

Pakistan's Haripur district, a Lady Health Worker counts a young child's breaths to diagnose pneumonia.

A new study,  released today in the Lancet medical journal,  suggests that training frontline workers to treat children at home is one of most effective ways to drastically reduce the number of deaths caused by pneumonia.

The study, which was funded by  the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and conducted by the nonprofit organization Save the Children  - offers new hope for those fighting to save the roughly 1.4 million children under age 5 who die annually from the disease —98 percent of them in the developing world.

“Pneumonia is highly treatable with inexpensive antibiotics, yet it remains the world’s number-one killer of children,” said Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children. “Today’s results point to an extremely promising and practical way to reduce child deaths from severe pneumonia in the hardest hit communities.”

USAID Administrator Raj Shah said: “This study adds to the evidence base that frontline health workers can safely and effectively manage illness and prevent child deaths, especially in communities where doctors and health facilities are out of reach for poor families.”

Pakistan’s Lady Health Workers

The study followed 3,211 children with severe pneumonia in the Haripur district of Pakistan.   A control group received an oral antibiotic and was referred to a health facility. Several families reported they did not make the trip and others said they failed to receive proper treatment even if they made it to a health care facility.

An experimental group of children was treated at home with oral antibiotics for five days  by community health workers known as  Lady Health Workers.   The outcomes for this group were much better, with 50 percent fewer treatment failures that the group treated at a health care facility.  After five days, 18 percent of the children referred to a facility were still ill, compared to 9 percent of those treated at home by the Lady Health Workers.

“Many communities around the world have no doctors or nurses,” Dr. Salim Sadruddin who authored  the study said today from his home in Pakistan.    ”Even if families do make it to the nearest health facility they may find there is no provider there.”

Home Care at the Heart of the Solution

The results are already changing the guidelines for care for childhood pneumonia globally.  Low-income countries can train community health workers for as little as $300.  In Pakistan, Lady Health Workers have the ability to reach 150-200 families at home monthly.

“Within WHO (World Health Organization), we have already updated the treatment guidelines so community health care workers can treat children with PPneumonia,” said Dr. Elizabeth Mason, WHO director of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health. Delay in treatment is a key factor in the child dying or being able to recover to full health. Being treated at home improves the ability to access early treatment.”

The study addresses a significant barrier to effective treatment for millions of poor families around the world:  the difficulty in accessing quality health services. In poor and isolated communities where pneumonia takes its biggest toll, major challenges include distance to a health facility, lack of transportation and costs.

“New guidelines will make treatment more accessible to poor and isolated communities, have governments make the most of resources, and save lives,” said Dr. Mason.

 Find Out More:

*You can read a free abstract of the Lancet article here:

*To learn more about frontline health workers saving children’s lives and how to support their work, please visit

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