Pneumonia and Children

Chhatra Karki, CNS Correspondent, Nepal
Developing countries have a major share in the number of deaths of children due to pneumonia which is considered the most dangerous and infectious disease in children below five years of age. Even though pneumonia affects the children in most of the countries in the world, child mortality rate is negligible in the developed countries due to the effective prevention and treatment procedures.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), out of the total 942,750 victims who died of pneumonia in 2013 – 15% were children below five years of age. Countries like India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and China constituted about 50% of these total deaths. More specifically, India tops the mortality list with a death figure of 174,000 children, followed by Pakistan’s 71,000, and China’s 33,000.

Various researches confirm the interrelationships between breast feeding, malnutrition, and pneumonia. An infant who is not breast-fed from birth to 6 months is 15 times more vulnerable to death following pneumonia. If the child suffers from malnutrition, the probability of death due to pneumonia is nine times more.

It is not that there is no simple and effective treatment and preventive measure against pneumonia. Doctors highly recommend regular and adequate breast feeding to the infants until six months, sufficient nutrition, clean drinking water and sanitation to prevent the children from pneumonia. Physician Dr. Santosh Neupane at Kathmandu says, “The risk of pneumonia can be highly subdued if the indoor air pollution caused by burning firewood in traditional kitchens is brought under control.” Firewood is the major source of fuel energy in the households of a majority of people of low-income developing countries like Nepal, which produces more smoke.

According to Dr. Neupane, pneumococcal vaccine is another effective measure to prevent pneumonia in children. This vaccine is being used in 25 countries of the world since 2010. About 10 million children have already been inoculated with this vaccine. However, much is left to be accomplished on this front. According to John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health of Researches, teaming up Pneumococcal Vaccine with Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccine during the inoculation will shield the subject against pneumonia as well as influenza.  Statistics show that annually US$ 51 billion is being spent in the poor countries to fight against influenza.

Health and Population/Demographic survey of Nepal government reveals about 96 daily deaths of children out of which 15 are attributed to pneumonia. The Child Health Division accepts that in spite of the fact that this disease can be treated by skilled healthcare workers even after contraction, the lack of initiative to diagnose and treat the disease is taking the lives of many children below five years of age. Majority of the cases of pneumonia can be treated at Community Health Posts, however, about 30% of the cases are so serious that they have to be referred to hospitals. Serious cases of pneumonia may lead to severe lung and respiratory health issues.

Dr Steve Graham, of the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, stressed on the need to initiate and implement preventive measures against pneumonia at community as well as government levels. He told CNS that, “At the community level, maternal education, accessibility to health services, proper diagnosis and availability of antibiotics, among others, should be taken care of. Governments should effectively manage Immunization along with HIV prevention and control, provision of child nutrition and patients’ treatment facilities”.

Pneumonia is an air-borne disease respiratory disease which may have several roots, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Children below five years of age are primarily infected with pneumococcus bacteria. It is identified with symptoms as chills, high fever, cough, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and chest pains.

On November 12, 2014, World Pneumonia Day was celebrated with the slogan “Universal Access to Pneumonia Prevention and Care”. There should be a dedicated political will to control this disease, which continues to be a major cause of death of children, by calling for accessibility of preventive and treatment measures to all children through.

Chhatra Karki, Citizen News Service - CNS
 24 November 2014