About 1.6 million people across the globe die annually of pneumonia, half of them children under the age of five, according to two new studies released Tuesday.
"Pneumonia is a leading killer disease in the world among children under the age of five. It kills more than AIDS, measles and malaria combined," Jean Marie Okwo-Bel of the World Health Organisation said during the release of the reports.
AdvertisementIndia and China have the world's heaviest caseload of childhood pneumonia with 44 million and 18 million infections a year.
About 433 million young children in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa catch the disease every year, the studies said, calling for increased vaccinations to prevent the illness.
"This is an emergency for us to introduce these vaccines, recommended and supported by the WHO," said Okwo-Bel, the organisation's director for immunisations.
South Africa recently became the first African country to introduce pneumococcal vaccines, while eight others around the continent are expected to follow suit soon, they said.
A dose of the vaccine costs about 20 dollars in South Africa and a three-course dose is recommended, they added.
"There is no specific, serious risk associated with these vaccines. So, there is no severe adverse effects," said Keith Klugman, a member of the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts, a project of the US-based Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other life-threatening ailments.