South Sudanese pupils who are beneficiaries of the Integrated Essential Emergency Education Services project were with an instructor from the United Nations Children's Fund in a classroom in Juba, capital of South Sudan, July 16, 2018. (Xinhua/Denis Elamu)

More than 7,600 children under five years of age lost lives due to pneumonia in South Sudan last year, making pneumonia a top killer disease for this group of children in the country, a new report shows.

JUBA, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Pneumonia is a top killer disease for young children in South Sudan, which was responsible for one-fifth of deaths of children under five years last year, a new report has shown.

A new Child Mortality analysis released Tuesday by the UN children's agency UNICEF and charity groups Save the Children and Every Breath Counts Coalition, said pneumonia claimed 7,640 lives of children under the age of five in 2018 in the country, causing 20 percent of under-five deaths due to inequality, poverty and lack of access to health services.

Children with immune systems weakened by other infections or by malnutrition, and those living in areas with high levels of air pollution and unsafe water, are at far greater risk, the aid agencies said in a joint statement.

"Health facilities in South Sudan are overwhelmed with pneumonia cases with more than 7,000 deaths in 2018," said Rama Hansraj, Save the Children in South Sudan Country Director.

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with infection and fluid.

The aid agencies called on the South Sudanese government to urgently commit new resources to tackle this deadly disease.

File photo shows refugee children playing games at a refugee camp in Juba, South Sudan, on Nov. 16, 2015. (Xinhua/Pan Siwei)

"Pneumonia is among the top killer diseases of children under five in South Sudan. Solutions to prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia are well known," Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan said.

"The Government of the Republic of South Sudan, the Ministry of Health, UN agencies and the donor community need to join efforts to combat pneumonia through Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and equitable access to quality primary and community health care," Ayoya, added.

Pneumonia deaths can be prevented with vaccines, nutritional support and preventing the spread of disease with clean water and handwashing, but those services are missing in South Sudan due to lack of resources.

The groups said South Sudan spent just 23 U.S. dollars per person on health care in 2016, far below the 86-dollar minimum level recommended by the World Health Organization.

"For decades the leading killer of children has been a neglected disease and the world's most vulnerable children have paid the price," said Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of Every Breath Counts.


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