Hypoxaemia is a common complication of childhood infections, particularly acute lower respiratory tract infections. In pneumonia-a disease that disproportionately impacts developing countries, and accounts for more than two million deaths of children worldwide-hypoxaemia is a recognised risk factor for death, and correlates with disease severity. Hypoxaemia also occurs in severe sepsis, meningitis, common neonatal problems, and other conditions that impair ventilation and gas exchange or increase oxygen demands. Despite this, hypoxaemia has been overlooked in worldwide strategies for pneumonia control and reducing child mortality. Hypoxaemia is also often overlooked in developing countries, mainly due to the low accuracy of clinical predictors and the limited availability of pulse oximetry for more accurate detection and oxygen for treatment. In this Review of published and unpublished studies of acute lower respiratory tract infection, the median prevalence of hypoxaemia in WHO-defined pneumonia requiring hospitalisation (severe and very severe classifications) was 13%, but prevalence varied widely. This corresponds to at least 1.5 to 2.7 million annual cases of hypoxaemic pneumonia presenting to health-care facilities. Many more people do not access health care. With mounting evidence of the impact that improved oxygen systems have on mortality due to acute respiratory infection in limited-resource health-care facilities, there is a need for increased awareness of the burden of hypoxaemia in childhood illness.