In January the first ever global summit on the disease is taking place and charities hope that both international donors and affected countries will turn their attention to this disease – both in terms of committing funds and sounding the alarm.
Mr Watkins said there was a “terrible lack of attention” globally and nationally on the disease.
“International cooperation on pneumonia is very limited – it’s a terribly neglected disease. We want to focus the attention of both the donor community and governments in high burden countries on the sheer scale of the problem,” he said.
Pneumonia can easily be prevented with routine vaccines, including the Haemophilus influenza type B (HIB) vaccine and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV).
However, the PCV is expensive – around $130 a dose in the US – and needs to be given in three doses.
The poorest countries are supported by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. However, about half of middle income countries that do not qualify for Gavi support have failed to introduce the PCV.
There is no good diagnostic test for pneumonia and the way the disease presents in children – high fever and rapid breathing – means that it is often misdiagnosed as malaria.
The disease can be treated with the antibiotic amoxicillin but for the medicine to be effective it has to be administered early.