As many of you know, one of the causes of Madeline’s death was her premature birth, but a main cause listed on her death certificate was pneumonia. Because of her scarred and weakened lungs from prematurity, she was especially susceptible to respiratory infections, and pneumonia is one of the worst.

During a minor hospitalization
During a minor hospitalization.

Through my work with the United Nations Foundation and Shot@Life, I discovered that, unfortunately, we aren’t alone when it comes to losing a child to pneumonia. In fact, pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death in children worldwide, accounting for 15% of all deaths of children under five years old. Nearly one million children die from pneumonia every year – more than malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS, combined.

While most healthy children can fight an infection with their natural defenses, children whose immune systems are compromised are at a higher risk of developing disease (preemies like Maddie, for example). Children in developing countries often live with immune systems weakened by malnutrition or undernourishment and many do not have access to adequate medical care or proper health facilities. Ninety-nine percent of all childhood deaths from pneumonia occur in the developing world.

The United Nations, in conjunction with Gavi (the vaccine alliance), work hard to combat pneumonia in developing nations. Preventing pneumonia has become a critical component in reducing overall childhood mortality. The good news? There’s a vaccine for it! The global introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine is an historic milestone in global health, as the vaccine have been made accessible in record time to children in the world’s poorest countries.

Today, the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published the annual 2016 Pneumonia & Diarrhea Progress Report, which details the fifteen countries with the greatest burden of under-five pneumonia and diarrhea deaths, and their progress in implementing high-impact interventions outlined in the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhea.

I tell you all of this to help raise awareness. For every global health dollar spent, only two cents goes to pneumonia. And while it’s amazing to know that over the last fifteen years there has been an 85% decline in measles deaths and 60% for malaria, AIDS, and tetanus deaths, in that same time period childhood pneumonia deaths have fallen by only 50%. Impressive but it could be SO much better. You can get involved in helping wipe out pneumonia at Every Breath Counts.

Maddie’s 9th birthday is tomorrow, and the day after (November 12) is World Pneumonia Day. I wish we could have given Maddie the pneumonia vaccine but it helps to know that on her 9th birthday, many other children will live because of it.