Acute Respiratory Infections, a disease group that includes pneumonia, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), is causing up to 4.25 million deaths annually.
According to the first-ever ARI Atlas published by the World Lung Foundation, ARIs are the third largest cause of mortality in the world and the top killer in low- and middle-income countries like India.
Pneumonia is one of the worst acute respiratory diseases and it alone accounted for 20 percent of all pediatric deaths around the world, 1.6 million in 2008. India recorded the highest number of deaths due to pneumonia – 3.7 lakh. The death rate due to pneumonia was 215 times higher in low-income countries compared to high-income countries.
Also, 97 percent of the 156 million new cases of pneumonia each year occur in the developing world.
Lack of trained doctors has been identified as one of the causes. India has just six physicians per 10,000 people while it is eight in Pakistan, 14 in China and six in Sri Lanka.
Interestingly, while acute respiratory diseases are a serious threat, only about 1 percent ($32 million) of all pharmaceutical research and development funding was spent on acute respiratory diseases in 2007, compared with $1.1 billion spent on HIV-related research.
“Yet, acute respiratory diseases take twice the toll in lives lost. Despite causing 6 percent of deaths, research efforts attract only 1 percent of pharmaceutical research funding,” according to the ARI Atlas.
World Lung Foundation CEO Peter Baldini says compared to the illness and mortality they cause, ARIs receive a fraction of government, donor agency and philanthropic support.
The goal of the ARI Atlas is to demonstrate in vivid detail the scale of this problem and to kick-start a serious conversation about addressing it.