Corporate Responsibility

Ensuring that no child dies for want of the right antibiotic

By Richard Francis, November 12, 2014

Richard_Francis_Picture Last year, one million children around the world died of pneumonia. But perhaps the greater tragedy is that we have very effective tools to prevent and treat most cases of pneumonia, and the great majority of these children need not have died. All it would take is political will and a little imagination.

Pneumonia causes more deaths among small children than any other infectious agent, yet vaccines exist that protect against the leading causes of pneumonia – pneumococcal and Haemophilus Influenzae Type B – and increased rates of breastfeeding and simple measures to reduce indoor air pollution from cooking provide further protection against infection.

For those children who do become sick with pneumonia, antibiotics can cure most cases and oxygen treatment can also prevent death.

November 12th is World Pneumonia Day and we should use that occasion to turn our attention to making sure that the children most at risk of death from the disease actually receive the appropriate interventions.

Seven out of 10 children who die from pneumonia live in one of 15 countries1 in South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite great progress in reducing child deaths from pneumonia in many of these countries, there are still too many children who do not have access to vaccines, who are not breastfed, who are exposed to indoor air pollution and who do not receive antibiotics.

This has resulted in the number of child pneumonia deaths actually increasing in recent years in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Chad and Cameroon.

The WHO and UNICEF recommended antibiotic treatment for childhood pneumonia is amoxicillin in the child-friendly dispersible tablet form. Sandoz has decided to take a global leadership role in increasing access to this treatment, and we are committed to reaching at least 500,000 of the world’s most vulnerable children in the first year of a multiyear partnership with the United Nations.

The first shipment of 100,000 packs of the Sandoz 250mg amoxicillin dispersible tablet is currently on its way to Africa as a result of this partnership.

The need is much greater than that, however. There are approximately 150 million cases of child pneumonia every year and only a fraction of these are treated with antibiotics. Sandoz is committed to working in partnership with governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society to ensure that no child dies from pneumonia for want of the right antibiotic.

Product supply is only part of the solution. Success will also depend on governments and donors increasing health investments in the leading causes of death and ensuring that the most vulnerable populations are reached. With more than half of all child deaths now occurring in fragile, often conflict-ridden settings, this will require ever more innovative methods of identifying sick children and distributing essential medicines.

Despite the scale of the problem, I firmly believe that we are entering a new era where the benefits of public-private partnership in the fight against killer diseases are well understood, and that with an increased effort from all we can win the fight against the leading infectious disease killer of small children and end preventable child deaths by 2030.


1India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, China, Angola, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Kenya, Bangladesh, Sudan, Uganda, Niger and Tanzania.

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