Pneumonia: 'If only I knew better'

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
Photo credit: CNS: citizen-news.org
“Only if I knew better, my child will still be alive”, these were the words of a weeping mother of two years old *Buhle Matsenjwa who had left for another world. She told me, “Buhle started getting sick- coughing, losing weight and was not eating well. Buhle was taking some kind of medicine that I would get from the local clinic or pharmacy most of the time. Friends and family looked at me with accusing eyes and I did not understand at first until a friend from church asked if I had him tested for HIV and screened for TB.

The burning and accusing eyes of my community drove me to take my child to a hospital in the capital city away from people I know. There I was told that I had presented my child too late, and 3 days later Buhle died of pneumonia induced complications.”

This tragic death could have been averted with tools and strategies that have a low cost to implement. Pneumonia is a respiratory disease spread through contact with another individual with the pneumococcus bacteria, currently affecting mostly children below 5 years of age. Its common symptoms include chills, high fever, and cough, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and chest pains-- symptoms very much associated with TB. It is therefore essential to diagnose every cough at a healthcare centre where the differences can be isolated and treatment can be specific, targeted and effective. According to Dr Steve Graham of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and lead author of WHO Guidance on Childhood TB and Childhood TB Roadmap, “The risk factors for pneumonia include young age, malnutrition including low birth weight, not being breast fed, low socio-economic status, not being fully immunized and exposure to indoor air pollution”.

Buhle’s mother lamented that lack of access to valuable knowledge about pneumonia, and community stigma associated with respiratory diseases especially TB as a result of poor or no awareness have resulted in the loss of her baby’s life. Dr Graham told Citizen News Service (CNS) that ‘for reduction in deaths associated with pneumonia, there is need to engage in low cost but effective strategies like maternal education at community level’.

He further noted that ‘accessibility of healthcare services for early diagnosis; improved immunization coverage; HIV prevention; and improved child nutrition are key strategies that can minimize deaths caused by pneumonia’.

Ms. Ntombenhle Matsebula, a nurse responsible for educating expecting mothers during Ante Natal Care explained that education about pneumonia is not done on its own, noting that most education is focussed on HIV prevention, which in effect, will minimize risk for pneumonia development among young children. She explained that by default the intense TB education is encouraging mothers to have any cough attended at a healthcare centre and promoting health seeking behavior as a family unit. These strategies have in essence promoted community and maternal health education in Swaziland. 

*Pseudo name used on request by informant

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS 
22 November 2014

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