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Bull World Health Organ. 2004 Dec; 82(12): 895–903.
Published online 2005 Jan 5.
PMCID: PMC2623105

Global estimate of the incidence of clinical pneumonia among children under five years of age.

Igor Rudan, Lana Tomaskovic, Cynthia Boschi-Pinto, Harry Campbell, and WHO Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group


OBJECTIVE: Clinical pneumonia (defined as respiratory infections associated with clinical signs of pneumonia, principally pneumonia and bronchiolitis) in children under five years of age is still the leading cause of childhood mortality in the world. In this paper we aim to estimate the worldwide incidence of clinical pneumonia in young children. METHODS: Our estimate for the developing world is based on an analysis of published data on the incidence of clinical pneumonia from community based longitudinal studies. Among more than 2000 studies published since 1961, we identified 46 studies that reported the incidence of clinical pneumonia, and 28 of these met pre-defined quality criteria. FINDINGS: The estimate of the median incidence from those studies was 0.28 episodes per child-year (e/cy). The 25-75% interquartile range was 0.21-0.71. We assessed the plausibility of this estimate using estimates of global mortality from acute respiratory infections and reported case fatality rates for all episodes of clinical pneumonia reported in community-based studies or the case-fatality rate reported only for severe cases and estimates of the proportion of severe cases occurring in a defined population or community. CONCLUSION: The overlap between the ranges of the estimates implies that a plausible incidence estimate of clinical pneumonia for developing countries is 0.29 e/cy. This equates to an annual incidence of 150.7 million new cases, 11-20 million (7-13%) of which are severe enough to require hospital admission. In the developed world no comparable data are available. However, large population-based studies report that the incidence of community-acquired pneumonia among children less than five years old is approximately 0.026 e/cy, suggesting that more than 95% of all episodes of clinical pneumonia in young children worldwide occur in developing countries.

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