Annual IVAC Report Finds Stalling Progress in Preventing Pneumonia and Diarrhea Deaths Among Children

Ahead of World Pneumonia Day on November 12th new report highlights dire need for action to prevent 1.22 million child deaths per year

Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two leading infectious killers of children under five globally. Each year, over 1.22 million children die of pneumonia or diarrhea before reaching their 5th birthday—the equivalent of over 139 child deaths per hour or 3,300 deaths per day. Pneumonia and diarrhea are responsible for nearly one in every four deaths among children under 5 across the globe, according to the latest estimates of global under-5 mortality.

For over a decade, the International Vaccine Access Center has tracked global progress against these deadly illnesses. The 2022 Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report, released ahead of World Pneumonia Day on November 12, shows that efforts to reduce child deaths due to pneumonia and diarrhea are at risk of stalling due to the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This annual report tracks global progress by analyzing the latest available data on how countries are delivering key interventions shown to prevent childhood deaths due to pneumonia and diarrhea—including breastfeeding, immunization, antibiotics, oral rehydration solution (ORS), and zinc supplementation.

Worrying Trends in Global Immunization Coverage

In July 2022, the World Health Organization and UNICEF warned that the world is now seeing the largest decline in key childhood immunizations in a generation, with global childhood vaccine coverage levels at their lowest since 2009.

The 2022 report shows a worrying trend of decreased immunization coverage in many countries; only 5 of the 15 countries in the report experienced an improvement in overall vaccine coverage, while the other 10 focus countries saw no progress or decreases in immunization coverage.

“Almost all of these 1.22 million deaths are preventable—we already have proven, effective interventions or approaches which could save these children,” says Victoria B. Chou, Ph.D., a child and maternal health epidemiologist and a lead author for the report. “It’s deeply worrying to see declines in life-saving activities like routine childhood immunizations in some of the places where children are most vulnerable. We cannot afford to let decades of progress improving child health backslide.” 

According WUENIC data released in 2022, just 51% of infants globally received a full course of PCV in 2021, showing global access has stagnated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report finds that only a single high-burden country, Bangladesh, met any of the GAPPD targets for immunization coverage.

Devastating Impacts of Pneumonia and Diarrhea

An estimated 739,000 children under 5 die from pneumonia every year—that’s one child every 43 seconds. Pneumonia continues to kill more children worldwide than any other infectious disease.  Diarrheal diseases claim the lives of over 484,000 children under 5 each year—one child every 65 seconds. Diarrheal diseases are the second leading killer of young children worldwide.

The 15 countries highlighted in this year’s report represent over 70% of all under-5 deaths due to diarrhea and pneumonia worldwide. An estimated 70% of pneumonia deaths and 77% of diarrhea deaths of young children occur in these 15 high-burden countries.

Deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea are preventable with simple interventions, like immunizations, ORS and zinc, and oxygen therapy. As in past years, zinc continues to lag behind all of the other indicators. Zinc supplements are important for treating diarrhea. They help children by significantly reducing the duration of their symptoms.

“Although we did see progress in several of the 10 indicators analyzed for the report, we also noted a troubling trend of a reversal of overall progress in child health; not a single country in the 2022 report met targets,” explained Dr. Chou. “We all need to be concerned that so many countries experienced declines in coverage of key immunizations in 2021.”

Access the full report and supplementary materials here

Executive summary

Download the report

Download a country’s 2022 profile: Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania

Download all 15 country profiles