In 2020, many of us have thought about oxygen, ventilators and healthy lungs for the first time in our lives. The COVID19 pandemic has made dying for breath easier to imagine than ever.

But even before COVID, more than 600,000 children under five were dying for breath every year from pneumonia. Far from being something that only affects the elderly and the frail, pneumonia is the world's single biggest infectious killer, including for children under five. 

In 2019, pneumonia claimed the lives of 2.5 million people, including 672,000 children. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic is only likely to make that worse – potentially increasing the number of deaths in 2020 by 75 per cent (~4.4 million).

Countries around the world, including Australia's neighbours in Indonesia and the Philippines, are struggling with the twin burdens of COVID-19 and pneumonia. Thankfully, the remedies that we know are useful for COVID-19 are also ones that are useful for pneumonia. 

Hand washing, masks, and social distancing and all help stop the spread of infection, and vaccination can prevent infection from many specific respiratory pathogens (including influenza, pneumococcus, haemophilus, and hopefully soon coronavirus too). For those who develop pneumonia and require treatment, pulse oximetry (to measure blood oxygen levels) and oxygen therapy are vital.

One of the bewildering things about pneumonia is that while we know how devastating it is, and have tools and techniques to address it, we're not doing enough globally to prevent more children dying every year. 

Researchers at MCRI are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to take a measure of childhood pneumonia, especially in low and middle-income countries where the disease is most devastating. Their work will provide the evidence for global programs that are working to change the pneumonia story in the hardest hit communities.

A team of 29 researchers from across MCRI and our Melbourne Children's campus partners at The Royal Children's Hospital and the University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics, have come together to review the current knowledge about acute respiratory infections in children, especially pneumonia. Many of this team are volunteering their time on top of their existing workloads.

When their work is complete it will be used to update and, where needed, expand the guidance for health workers worldwide who care for children with pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections.

On 12 November, the world will mark World Pneumonia Day. In 2020, the hope is that the massive effort that's going into addressing COVID-19 can be carried on when that disease is less of a concern. 

Doing the basics of pneumonia prevention and treatment well, such as handwashing and improved access to oxygen therapy, will save lives.

Pneumonia research at MCRI