Feature Story | 10-Nov-2023

Urgent need for increased global access to effective prevention and treatment of pneumonia

Forum of International Respiratory Societies highlights World Pneumonia Day 2023

American Thoracic Society

On World Pneumonia Day, Nov. 12, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), of which the American Thoracic Society is a founding member, is highlighting the urgent challenges in pneumonia prevention and treatment globally.

In 2021, an estimated 6 million people died from respiratory infections, predominantly pneumonia including COVID-19, according to the Global Burden of Disease.  Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in young children. Over 650,000 children under 5 die from pneumonia each year - especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Pneumonia is also a major cause of deaths among the elderly. However, pneumonia can be prevented and treated.

There are several effective preventive strategies for pneumonia, including: good nutrition, prevention of HIV, hand washing, reducing exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and effective vaccines.  New vaccines have recently been developed to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the most common cause of pneumonia in infants and a frequent cause in the elderly. However, global access and affordability of these vaccines is needed. Treating pneumonia requires access to effective antibiotics and oxygen, but this too is still suboptimal in many LMICs.

With effective preventive and treatment strategies, dramatic reductions in mortality and improved childhood survival, as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 3.2, should be possible.

Despite many efforts, there are still barriers to ensuring that everyone has access to the care they need. These include:

  • Lack of affordable life-saving vaccines, including new vaccines against RSV in addition to currently available vaccines against influenza virus, COVID-19, and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
  • Low awareness about pneumonia, its risk factors, and interventions for prevention of pneumonia deaths.
  • Limited health care system capacity to diagnose and treat pneumonia with effective therapy including oxygen and antibiotics.
  • Lack of funding:  Pneumonia research and services do not have adequate funding, hindering progress in medical advancements and implementation of pneumonia management.

On World Pneumonia Day, FIRS calls on governments and other stakeholders to take urgent action to tackle pneumonia by:

  1. Strengthening health systems capacity.
  2. Ensuring that all children and vulnerable adults receive effective pneumonia vaccines.[i]
  3. Reducing air pollution and exposure to air pollutants and promoting good nutrition, hygiene practices, and smoking cessation to reduce the risk of pneumonia.
  4. Raising awareness and knowledge about pneumonia prevention and treatment.
  5. Improving access to antibiotics, pulse oximetry and oxygen therapy.
  6. Encouraging funders to invest in pneumonia research and services and supporting research to implement pneumonia prevention and treatment interventions.

ATS President M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF said: "We have learned how pneumonia can significantly impact humankind with the COVID-19 pandemic. Pneumonia caused by many other organisms continues to affect many including the vulnerable population - children, the elderly, the immunocompromised and those with chronic medical conditions. This is especially true for those who are living in LMICs where access and resources are limited. We need more global efforts towards working for easy and equal access to preventative measures and treatment of pneumonia."

FIRS President Dr David CL Lam added: “An effective vaccination strategy will reduce the spread of pneumonia, and its impact on the population. Equal access to treatment, namely appropriate antibiotics, is especially important. Appropriate use of antibiotics would offer a more effective treatment strategy and reduce the emergence of drug resistance.”

“Because action on pneumonia is essential for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals - especially the goal to end preventable deaths of children under five - and for effective pandemic preparedness and response, we must step up our efforts.”

Media contact: Fiona Salter Fiona.salter@firsnet.org



  • Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi, but it is often preventable through vaccination, adequate nutrition (including breastfeeding) and improving socioeconomic conditions.
  • Environmental factors can also increase the risk of pneumonia including indoor air pollution from biomass fuels, secondhand smoke and overcrowding.


For more pneumonia resources, see the ATS Patient Fact Sheets. Visit us online to learn more about the ATS Vaccine Initiative, including efforts to improve pneumonia vaccine rates among adults.

The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease report outlines major causes of respiratory disease and lays out recommendations for global action.




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