KARACHI - The world,s leading child killer is not measles or malaria, but pneumonia, which can be prevented through existing vaccines or treated with inexpensive antibiotics to reduce the number of children dying from this disease in Pakistan, said experts at Aga Khan University (AKU) on World Pneumonia Day. Pneumonia kills more children under five than measles, malaria, and AIDS combined. While the disease affects children and families everywhere, it has the most impact in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where 98 per cent of all deaths from pneumonia occur. In Pakistan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in every five children deaths is from pneumonia. This disease must be tackled if United Nations Millennium Development Goal 4 for reducing child mortality is to be met. Safe and effective vaccines exist to protect children from the leading causes of pneumonia such as Hib and pneumococcal disease. The Hib vaccine is already available u Pakistan was the first country in South Asia to introduce the vaccine through its national immunisation programme u and the pneumococcal vaccine, will be included in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) for Pakistan by January 1, 2011, according to Dr Tariq Bhutta, Chair, National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group, Pakistan. Though the pneumococcal vaccine is currently available in Pakistan, at Rs 12,000, it is too expensive for most people. Under EPI, the vaccine will be available free of charge at all EPI centres around the country. Resources should not be an excuse to avoid tackling this problem, said Dr Bhutta. Researchers at AKU are providing reliable estimates of how much pneumonia in Pakistani children is caused by Hib and pneumococcal infections, and demonstrating the highly positive effect of vaccinating children against pneumonia. Dr Anita Zaidi, Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, AKU, presented early results from a large research study of pneumonia in children in Karachi, Hyderabad, the Mattiari district of Sindh, and the Jhelum in Punjab, showing that use of the Hib vaccine has reduced the incidence of pneumonia cases in these areas. Besides preventing the disease, protecting and treating children is equally important. Breastfeeding for the first six months of life, said Dr Gaffar Billoo, Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, AKU along with good nutrition and adequate hygiene can prevent many cases of pneumonia. He also stressed on the need to recognise the signs of pneumonia such as fast breathing, wheezing and fever, since providing timely health care with low-cost antibiotics can save lives. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Bo Lindblad, Professor Emeritus, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, highlighted that organisations from around the globe have joined hands to urge governments to fight pneumonia. The first steps in this fight are outlined in the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia, released by the WHO and UNICEF today, to mark the first World Pneumonia Day. Professor Iqtidar A. Khan, Professor and Interim Chairman, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, AKU, delivering the closing remarks, further emphasised that new vaccines can only have their full effect on reducing pneumonia deaths if efforts are stepped up by parents, doctors, and each districts health officials to make sure every child receives a full course of childhood vaccines.