Airing pneumo’s dirty laundry, one story at a time

Apr 17, 2018


Lauren Newhouse
Communications Officer at PATH
Portrait of Mariama
“An infant was brought in to me with signs of severe pneumonia. The baby was admitted and fortunately recovered. However, later we discovered that the baby had not had any pneumococcal vaccinations. Pneumococcal vaccines are key to pneumonia prevention.”

~ Dr. Mariama Badjie Hydara, The Gambia


This year, the 11th International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases (ISPPD-11) was full of these kinds of stories. Stories of hope, sorrow, and science—all from renowned and upcoming researchers and doctors in the pneumonia and pneumococcal field. They came from far and wide to the symposium in Melbourne, Australia, in pursuit of a shared goal—to defeat a complex adversary, the pneumococcus. Pneumococcus is the most common cause of deadly childhood pneumonia and can also lead to infections of the brain (meningitis) and blood (sepsis). When we refer to pneumonia and diarrhea together, it’s because they are the leading killers of children, and fortunately for us, they share some of the same weaknesses, like vaccines and clean environments.


We knew this group of experts had powerful stories to be tapped and set out to turn the spigot. What came out was not a drip, but a deluge. We collected nearly 50 stories from participating experts from at least 16 countries. They displayed their stories on our clothesline—airing the dirty laundry on pneumonia and pneumococcus for all to see.


Clothesline of portraits and stories


Their tales tell of saving and losing patients; seeing loved ones battle pneumococcal disease; advancing lifesaving science; and striving to make tools like vaccines (existing pneumococcal conjugate vaccines [PCVs] and new vaccines) and antibiotics available to everyone, rich or poor. Some stories celebrate progress to date and inspire hope, others emphasize the scientific rigor of tackling pneumococcal disease and pneumonia, and some will simply make you weep.


Check out the slideshow for the full collection, and in the meantime, here’s a sneak peak into what’s inside.


Photo of Lauren Newhouse and Mathu Santosham
A nine-month-old baby came to me with seizures. This baby had meningitis caused by pneumococcus. In 48 hours, the baby died. Fortunately, we have a vaccine against pneumococcus. Unfortunately, only 40% of the world has access to this vaccine. We need to do whatever it takes to protect every child. 
                                                                                                                                                                                         ~ Dr. Mathu Santosham, United States


One-year-old boy smiling in sunlight
This is my son Dean. He was 587 days old when he contracted pneumococcal meningitis. It took six hours for this disease to take his life. Please don’t stop trying to eliminate pneumococcal meningitis.

~ Love from Dean’s mum, Australia


Portrait of Dagna
Pneumonia can have a substantial economic impact to the healthcare systems in low- and middle-income countries, households, and society in general. We did an economic study in Nepal that told a human story about the extent that a disease like pneumonia has on households—how parents of children with pneumonia can go into debt selling their assets to pay for their children’s antibiotic treatment. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine can substantially reduce the proportion of households facing catastrophic expenditure and poverty.

~ Dagna Constenla, Nepal


Female conference attendee from Brazil
I have been studying and working with pneumococcus and pneumococcal diseases for at least 10 years. My greatest inspiration to carry on such studies is the possibility of building awareness about ways of preventing pneumococcal diseases in our population in Brazil. Brazil is still one of the top countries on incidence of pneumococcal diseases, and we are trying really hard to change that.

~ Name unlisted


Portrait of Dr. Ghosh
I am a physician. Twenty-two years back, when I worked as a medical officer in a remote primary health center, I was unfortunate to witness a six-month-old child die from respiratory infection in front of my eyes. As they took the child away, the father asked, “Could we not have protected our child in any way? Is there no vaccine?” I had no answer. Today, India has introduced pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. I HAVE AN ANSWER NOW.

~ Dr. Raj Shankar Ghosh, India


Just like the stories poured out of these experts, let them flow over us and inspire us to do our part in the fight against pneumonia and other pneumococcal diseases – and diarrhea, while we’re at it. Sounds like an excuse to air even more dirty laundry.