May 10, 2009 Op-Ed Columnist

The Killer No One Suspects

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

On this Mother's Day, let's not only reach for flowers and dinners but also think of how we might make motherhood itself a bit happier.

One answer would be to confront the disease that kills more children than any other around the world. Quick, what do you think that might be? Hint: It's not diarrheal disease (the No. 2 killer), malaria, measles or AIDS.

A further hint: It was threatening to kill an 18-month-old boy, Ousseynou Thiam, in a hospital in Dakar, Senegal. He lay on his back, his chest heaving, struggling frantically for breath, as his mother, Khady Thiam, hovered over him, her eyes ablaze with fear.

"He's very seriously ill, for he's not getting oxygen," said the doctor, Boubacar Camara. "It's too soon to tell what will happen. He may live. Or he may die."

I'm taking a University of South Carolina sophomore, Paul Bowers, with me on my third "win-a-trip" journey through Africa, and watching a child at the edge of death marked a somber first leg of our trip. But traveling with a student gives me an excuse to step back and focus on immense challenges that we in journalism neglect because they're not new enough to be "news."

One of these is pneumonia, the ailment that was threatening to destroy not only Khady's Mother's Day but also her child's chance of living even one more day. Pneumonia gets very little attention from donors or the public health community, yet it kills more than two million children a year, according to Unicef and the World Health Organization.

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