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Pneumonia kills more children than Aids and malaria

Lung infections such as flu kill 4.25 million people every year, many of them young children, a new report reveals. These infections make up six per cent of deaths globally, the World Lung Foundation said, but research in to them only brings in one per cent of drug research funding. 

 

Every year about the world spends about £68m on HIV and Aids related illnesses an only £19.4m a year on research into lung infection drugs. But pneumonia causes 20 per cent of all child deaths globally, or 1.6 million deaths in 2008, compared with 732,000 children who died from malaria and 200,000 who died from Aids. Millions of lives could be saved if more was spent on studying and tackling common lung infections, the foundation said, releasing a map of world hotspots for lung infections "We know that at least 4 million people die from acute respiratory infections, yet the global health community does not even recognise them as a distinct disease group," said Peter Baldini, from the World Lung Foundation. People in the world's poorest countries are 215 times more likely to die from pneumonia, according to the report, out yesterday (Tuesday) than people in more well-off countries. And children are particularly vulnerable, with an estimated 1.6 million deaths in the under-fives each year.

Each year there are 156 million new cases of pneumonia 97 per cent of them in developing countries. A simple course of antibiotics can treat bacterial causes of pneumonia, for a few pence. Treating all children who need them with antibiotics could save as many as 600,000 every year, the foundation said. Another lung infection, respiratory syncytial virus, (RSV), is the most common source of breathing-linked illnesses in children, the survey found, killing at least 66,000 children a year and possibly as many as 199,000. In 2005 alone, there were 33 million cases of RSV, for which there is still no vaccine and working treatment.

Simple cheap projects can make a huge difference in the number of people dying from lung infections, said Dr Neil Schluger, who wrote the report. "A project in Malawi simply taught parents to recognise the signs of pneumonia in their children, and got the government to have sustainable supplies of antibiotics. Death rates decreased by 50 per cent, so it shows that you can have relatively inexpensive programmes which have a big impact." The report also mentioned how indoor air pollution from cooking stoves, fires and second-hand cigarette smoke was also a major cause of lung infections. It said 1.96 million die every year from infections caused by these things, and another 121,000 die because of pollution outside.

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