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World Lung Foundation Report Highlights Prevalence Of Acute Respiratory Infections Worldwide

Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) – such as influenza, pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – cause 4.25 million deaths each year often among young children in developing countries, according to the Acute Respiratory Infections Atlas, which was released on Tuesday by the World Lung Foundation, Reuters reports (11/9).

“Collectively, ARIs cause at least 6% of the world’s disability and death … These deaths occur overwhelmingly in the world’s poorest countries, where the drivers of ARIs, including malnutrition, pollution, overcrowding, and tobacco use are most prevalent,” states a press release from the World Lung Foundation (11/9). The report “shows people in the world’s poorest countries are far more likely to die from such infections. The death rate from pneumonia is 215 times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries, for example,” Reuters writes.

The report notes that “pneumonia accounts for 20 percent of all child deaths globally, or 1.6 million deaths in 2008, compared to 732,000 children who died from malaria and 200,000 who died from … AIDS”-related causes, the news service writes. Also, 97 percent of the 156 million new cases of pneumonia each year occur in the developing world. According to the report, RSV, which “is the most common source of severe respiratory illness in children,” kills between 66,000 and 199,000 children per year. “It found 3 million RSV hospitalizations every year and 33 million cases of RSV in 2005. There is no vaccine and no good treatment for RSV,” Reuters reports.

The report also looked at some causes of respiratory death that receive less attention – “indoor air pollution from cooking stoves, fires and secondhand cigarette smoke. It said 1.96 million die every year from infections caused by these sources, with another 121,000 deaths due to outdoor pollution” (11/9).

About one percent, or $32 million, “of all pharmaceutical research and development funding was spent on research and development for ARIs in 2007,” the press release states. Research related to HIV/AIDS received about $1.1 billion that year, “yet ARIs take twice the toll in lives lost,” according to the release.

“We know that at least four million people die from acute respiratory infections, yet the global health community does not even recognize them as a distinct disease group,” said World Lung Foundation CEO Peter Baldini. “The goal of the Acute Respiratory Infections Atlas is to demonstrate in vivid detail the scale of this problem and to kick-start a serious conversation about addressing it. With relatively modest resources, the means are available to save millions of lives. We simply need commitment, sound policy, and strategic investment” (11/9).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.