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ETHIOPIA, 2013. Dr. Attaye Nigussie treats Eldana Debash, a 7-month-old suffering from pneumonia, as his mother Shiwalem Beyene Mariam looks on at Korem Hospital in Tigray region of Ethiopia on 22 August 2013. © UNICEF/ETHA2013_00540/JIRO OSE

9th  November 2013 – Pneumonia kills more children than any other disease in the world. UNICEF is working to fight this with the help of Danish innovation.

As the weather gets colder, a cold or a cough frequently follows. These can also sometimes turn into pneumonia. However, there are not many Danes who actually die of pneumonia, as it is easy to treat with a round of antibiotics.

Globally, the situation is different. Last year there were an estimated 1.1 million children who died from the disease. That corresponds to a child dying of pneumonia every half a minute. This makes pneumonia the disease that kills the most children under the age of five worldwide.

Although pneumonia is easy to diagnose in Denmark, it is still a challenge in developing countries. In connection with the International Pneumonia Day on Tuesday, UNICEF seeks to find a solution to the problem. The UNICEF Supply Division’s innovation team is based in Denmark, and it is among other Danish minds that will solve the problem.

“The problem is the diagnosis more than the treatment. The diagnosis is not complicated to make. It is just difficult to make it work, when you are a health worker in an African village. This requires us to develop diagnostic tools that can make the diagnosis. The treatment is already there,” says Kristoffer Gandrup-Marino, head of the UNICEF Supply Division’s Innovation Team.

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Nine month old Isiah Anane, who is hospitalized in Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital in Ghana’s capital, Accra, suffers from pneumonia. Her chances of recovery are good because she was given the correct diagnosis, which generally is a big problem in developing countries. Photo credit: Berlingske Nationalt

Simple solutions are the best

It is not possible to extend the methods we use in Denmark. Without X-ray machines and laboratory tests it is difficult to make an accurate diagnosis. Therefore, UNICEF is currently working with a number of companies to develop a method that can easily determine whether it is a case of pneumonia or another disease such as malaria. It could be a machine that measures breath intakes. The requirements are that the equipment must be easy to use as health workers are not necessarily able to count or read. The equipment should therefore be both cheap and effective.

“The challenge is to use advanced technology but simultaneously also to make it usable” says Kristoffer Gandrup-Marino.

A diagnosis is necessary to give a treatment of antibiotics for pneumonia because the antibiotics can develop resistance if given too often. It is therefore dangerous, if one later gets pneumonia. It is for this reason that health workers are very careful not to prescribe antibiotics to someone who does not have pneumonia.

While companies have an understanding of how to develop products, UNICEF is using their knowledge about the local conditions in developing countries to ensure that the developed products work in practice.

Read the original article on Berlingske Nationalt in Danish here

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