Pneumonia vaccination not reaching children who need it most

Although pneumonia continues to be the biggest cause of under 5 years of age mortality for children yet its vaccination is not included under the public health programme of the Government of India. Most people who get their children vaccinated have to buy it from the private sector. Most alarming human rights issue is that the children who are likely to need it most or those children who are most at risk of pneumonia, are the ones least likely to be able to afford a pneumonia vaccine.

These most-at-need children at times come from poor families and are brought up in surroundings that lack hygiene, lack cleanliness, are overcrowded, are often malnourished, and more likely to be exposed to second hand tobacco smoke or smoke coming out of cook stoves. Also these most-at-risk children for pneumonia are coming from families with low levels of health literacy.

"One child in my family also got pneumonia. In the urban slums we live in, most people are taking their children for immunization in government hospitals. The vaccines are provided free by the government. However there are still some people who are not taking their children for vaccination. These are the people who should be targetted by the awareness programmes and mobilized to take their children to the hospital for immunization. Last year there was a family who was not taking the child for vaccination and we convinced them about the benefits of vaccination and finally the child did get vaccinated" said Pradeep Srivastava, a resident of a slum in Gorakhpur.

It is important to clarify that Pradeep is not aware whether children in his family got vaccinated for pneumonia or not. In reality pneumonia vaccines are not included in the national immunization programme of the Government of India. So most likely none of the children in his slum would have got vaccinated for pneumonia as it is not provided free in the government public sector healthcare facilities.

Another slum resident from Gorakhpur Indravati said that one of her grandsons got pneumonia. The grandson was vaccinated in the government hospital but she wasn't aware whether pneumonia vaccine was given or not. As one can guess since pneumonia vaccine is not included in the government-run immunization programme, none of the children in the slum Indravati lives in would have got vaccinated against pneumonia, although they might be at a higher risk due to malnutrition, lack of hygiene and cleanliness, overcrowding and exposure to tobacco smoke or smoke from cook stoves.

As is evident the government of India must respond to the growing challenge of childhood pneumonia and include vaccination in its immunization programme.

Jitendra Dwivedi – CNS
(Translation: Bobby Ramakant – CNS)