International Rescue Committee (IRC)

World Pneumonia Day: Counting breaths, saving lives

Today is World Pneumonia Day, an opportunity to raise awareness of what has been called a “forgotten killer of children.”

 Worldwide, pneumonia kills more children under the age of five than any other cause -- 1.1 million kids in 2012 alone.  Each year within this age group there are an estimated 120 million new cases, but little is being done to reach children in some of the world’s poorest and most remote communities.

The International Rescue Committee is doing our best to combat this deadly, yet easily treatable, condition using effective and practical solutions. Working with local health authorities we’ve built a network of 13,000 community health workers in six countries -- Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia -- as a first line of defense against pneumonia and other childhood killers. These dedicated health workers, many of whom are illiterate, are chosen by their neighbors to serve rural villages that can be miles from a health clinic. With training and support from the IRC they provide lifesaving care for some 4 million people, including nearly 800,000 children under five.

Used with a countdown timer, these beads help community health workers identify children with pneumonia, so that they can provide the needed antibiotics. Photo: IRC

Some of these community health workers told us they found one task particularly challenging: accurately counting children’s breaths with a timer to determine if they had pneumonia. So we gave them these pneumonia counting beads to use along with the timer. While the timer counts down one minute, the health worker moves her hand along the string of beads, touching one bead for every breath. If she reaches the colored beads, then that child is breathing too fast -- a red flag for pneumonia -- and needs antibiotics. 

The community health workers who tested this innovative method not only felt more confident they were making the right diagnosis -- they were, in fact, three times more capable of accurately diagnosing pneumonia when using the beads.

Last year IRC-supported community health workers provided more than 622,000 treatments for pneumonia to children under five. The IRC is working hard to end preventable child deaths from pneumonia by supporting innovations like these counting beads that ensure children receive the lifesaving treatments they need.

1 comment


It should be pointed out that

It should be pointed out that nearly 50% of pneumonia deaths among children under five are due to particulate matter inhaled from indoor air pollution ( IRC and Women's Refugee Commission are working to support clean cooking and safe access to energy. SAFE is a holistic, multi-sector approach that incorporates protection, gender, livelihoods, environment, and education to address the numerous cooking and energy challenges faced by far too many families worldwide (

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