Wednesday 29 January 2020

Nearly 49,000 children in Malawi could die in a decade unless we act on pneumonia, leading agencies warn

Lilongwe, 29 January 2020 – Boosting efforts to fight pneumonia could avert nearly 49,000 child deaths from pneumonia and other major diseases in Malawi, a new analysis has found ahead of the first ever global forum on childhood pneumonia in Barcelona, Spain.

The first global conference on childhood pneumonia opens todayto agree on concrete steps governments and their partners can take to reduce child pneumonia deaths.

Ministers of Health from 16 countries including Malawi are attending the Forum and are expected to make major commitments to fight pneumonia.

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. Globally, more children under the age of five died from the disease in 2018 than from any other. Child deaths from pneumonia are concentrated in the world’s poorest countries and it is the most deprived and marginalised children who suffer the most.

In Malawi, pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. Children are at increased risk of pneumonia because of their weak immunity. Those with HIV/AIDS and malnutrition are particularly vulnerable.

“The Government of Malawi is aware of the high burden of pneumonia in the country and has prioritized pneumonia in its efforts to reduce child mortality and morbidity. Pneumonia is part of the Essential Health care Package (EHP) and is a priority in the Health Sector Strategic Plan. We are working with local and international partners within a multi-sectoral approach to prevent pneumonia deaths,” said Honorable Jappie Mhango, MP, Malawi’s Minister of Health.

Challenges in the management of pneumonia in Malawi include shortage of health workers at community level, inadequate equipment for diagnosis and treatment, delays in getting sick children to hospitals and clinics as well as weak referral mechanisms for children requiring a higher level of care.

Some types of pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines, and the disease is easily treated with low-cost antibiotics if properly diagnosed.

UNICEF supports the Government of Malawi by training health workers, procuring pneumonia vaccines, drugs and other supplies, which also help to keep village clinics functional.

Strong commitment and increased investments are critical to the fight against this disease. We can save thousands of children by scaling up interventions that protect children from infection and providing adequate and timely treatment when and where sick children need it,” said UNICEF Malawi Representative, Rudolf Schwen

Save the Children partners with the Malawi government by building capacity of health care workers located in hard to reach areas to offer services to under five children, including for preventing and treating pneumonia. Save the Children calls for concerted efforts to increase resources at the community level to end pneumonia deaths among children.

“The 2019 Save the Children Global Pneumonia report shows that pneumonia remains the largest infectious killer of children under the age of five more than malaria and HIV combined. It is a terrible disease that causes children unnecessary suffering. World leaders must increase their attention to pneumonia and take action to prevent and treat it to achieve the goal of ending child death by 2030” explains Save the Children Malawi Country Director, Kim Koch.

The conference in Barcelona aims to put the world’s leading infectious killer of children at the top of national and global health agendas; galvanize national action and mobilize the donor community to increase awareness of the scale of the pneumonia challenge

Note to editors

The Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia has been convened by UNICEF and eight other leading health and children’s organizations –Save the Children, ISGlobal, Every Breath Counts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” la Caixa” Foundation, USAID, Unitaid and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

For more details on the conference please click here. You can also livestream on Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference. The report is available here.   


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information please contact:

Rebecca Phwitiko, UNICEF Malawi, Tel: 0999 282 723,

Joshua Malango, Ministry of Health, Tel 0884 495 839

Edith Tsilizani, Save the Children, Tel 0997 544 547