Let no child die of pneumonia

Clarity Sibanda, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
The Global Coalition Against Childhood Pneumonia (GCACP) says pneumonia is the most deadly infectious disease for children under the age of 5 worldwide and although statistics from 2000 to 2015 reveal that the annual death toll from childhood pneumonia decreased from 1.7 million deaths annually to 920,000 in 2015. 2,500 children still die from pneumonia every day. This amounts to 16% of all child deaths.

Pneumonia is a life threatening respiratory illness that is a leading world killer of children under 5 and kills a child every 30 seconds. Most of these deaths are in poor and rural communities and a 2012 study found that less than 1% of childhood deaths due to pneumonia occur in developed countries while over 90% of deaths in children under 5 years occur in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa.

Pneumonia has a number of bacterial, viral and fungal causes and can be caused by bacteria and viruses already present in the body, or transmitted from an infected person through droplets in the air following a cough or sneeze or blood such as during child birth. During an infection, the lung’s alveoli-small sacs that inflate with air when a person breathes-fill with pus and fluid. Breathing becomes laboured and difficult, limiting oxygen intake. Other symptoms include retraction, instead of expansion, of the chest during inhalation, fever, sweating, shaking chills, cough, which may produce phlegm; diarrhoea, vomiting and fatigue.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data published in 2014 influenza and pneumonia deaths in Zimbabwe reached 11,513 or 9.05% of total deaths. The age adjusted death rate is 9722 per 100 000 of population which ranks Zimbabwe at number 45 in the world.

But it is not all doom and gloom, since pneumonia can be prevented and treated.  In 2016 GCACP put forward three holistic ways to prevent pneumonia from taking lives, including ways on how to protect, prevent and treat the infection. For protecting, there is need of exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of the infant’s life, which helps a child‘s immune system to naturally defend itself. In addition adequate nutrition and Vitamin A supplements help ensure a healthy immune system. Affordable and effective interventions like vaccines, antibiotics, hand-washing and breastfeeding have proven impacts. In order to prevent the disease there is need for provision of immunization against Haemophilus Influenzae type b, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough.

The world must not have children dying of pneumonia, a disease which is easily and inexpensively preventable and treatable. The challenge is to ensure that the communities with the greatest burden have the tools, medicines and strategies that save lives.

The Union’s Child Lung Health Programme has worked to reduce pneumonia through standardized case management, initially implemented in Malawi. The programme produced more than 50% reduction in the case fatality rate for children under 5, showing that pneumonia related mortality could be lowered through improved management at the district hospital level, even in high HIV endemic settings.

Deafening calls have been made to governments who are signatories to the Abuja Declaration to align their national budgets and contribute at least 15% of it towards health. Only a few countries have adhered to this and are doing well in this sector but countries such as Zimbabwe have come under the spotlight for misplaced priorities in their budget alignments and are contributing a paltry chunk to the health sector, which is currently in shambles. Therefore there is need for raising awareness and generating action against pneumonia and creating a better world for children. Pneumonia must be brought to the attention of everyone and adequate resources must be mobilised to reduce pneumonia mortality.

As stipulated in SDG 3, the UN signatories will ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages and all citizens are looking forward to the fulfilment of this goal. Several countries have affirmed to this unwavering commitment to achieving this agenda and utilizing it to the full to transform the world for the better, including saving the children from dying of pneumonia.

The world is praying and hoping that there will be an end to preventable deaths of new born and children under 5 years of age.

Clarity Sibanda, Citizen News Service- CNS 
27 December 2016