Stop Pneumonia: Invest in Child Health

islamabad – The most convenient and easy way to undo your guilt is to blame the others. Our society is no exception. We try to pass on the blame on the others knowing well that the onus of culpability lies within. However, having said that, we make mistakes, blunders and are at fault many a time but seldom we take responsibility for it.

Many of our mistakes are negligible, a few we learn from but it’s the guilt that haunt’s us for life, it remains with us and refuses to leave … ignorance towards health runs on the top of this list. As we celebrate World Pneumonia Day on this coming 12th Nov, the message for this year is quintessential; “Stop Pneumonia: Invest in Child Health”. We need to peek into our own health sector to differentiate between negligible and in-negligible mistakes that can be avoided… as they say, a stitch in time saves nine. Pakistan according to report by IVAC is amongst the 15 countries of the world that have the greatest number of deaths from pneumonia among children under 5 years of age.

Sadly, one child in every 11 born in Pakistan dies before reaching the age of five. One main reason is the limited routine immunization coverage.

A little more than 50 percent of children are covered nationally and the numbers of children immunized vary from one province to another. We blame the government for not providing enough funds, facilities in the health sector, we attend seminars, workshops, conferences in hotels and discuss next plan of action on every World Health day, be it World Aids Day, World Diabetics day, World Pneumonia day so on and so forth.

However, what we don’t like to discuss is what we have been provided or facilitated with. How ignorant we are to those excess abilities which are there to protect us from life-threatening diseases or vulnerabilities. The signboard EPI-Fixed Centres in Ghizer, a remote district of Gilgit-Baltistan or in Gotki, Sindh means little to the inhabitants of the area, the reason being illiteracy and lack of knowledge. In Sindh alone, one-third of all children reporting to the primary care units suffer from respiratory diseases.

A large proportion of child deaths or complications could be prevented through early, appropriate, low-cost or even free of cost in some cases treatment if approached the centres. According to Dr Saqlain Ahmad Gilani, Programme Manager Expanded Programme on Immunization, the vaccine PCV 10, introduced in Government Immunization Programme in 2012 is available free of cost, if administered, pneumococcal vaccine (PCV10) has the potential to save many lives.

In 2016, pneumonia and diarrhoea were responsible for one of every four deaths in children under 5 years of age. Routine immunization, exclusive breastfeeding, access to care and use of antibiotics can treat this illness.

These measures are to prevent childhood deaths due to pneumonia and could help achieve The UN’S Sustainable Development target goals of reducing under-five morality to at least 25 per 1000, live births by 2030. The children should be vaccinated against pneumonia in their infancy until the age of 5 years. Pneumonia is a seasonal calamity- winter in particular, which takes lives of 55000 to 65000 Pakistanis children every year as compared to the world count where there are 156 million cases of pneumonia each year, of which 7-13 percent is severe and life-threatening, contributing to nearly 19 percent of all deaths in children below the age of five years. Pneumonia is indeed a fatal disease, particularly in children. The rate of deaths due to pneumonia worldwide is around 2 million below the age of five years and the same mortality rate could be minimized to half by taking proper preventative measures which EPI-Fixed Centres provide free of cost. The bug that causes this disease is spread by coughing, sneezing or close contact with people. These bugs get into the nose and throat and then they attack the lungs or bloodstream, causing pneumonia. If they reach the brain, it can cause meningitis. Well-known types of pneumonia are of five: Community-acquired Pneumonia (CAP), Hospital-acquired, ventilator-associated, healthcare-associated and pneumonia in an immune-compromised HIV associated and non-HIV associated.

Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI Fixed Centres) as they are commonly known) is vaccinating children against these diseases and the brighter side is that GAVI-the vaccine Alliance is providing financial assistance to facilitate the community with free of cost vaccines which have caused a reasonable decline in the number of pneumonia deaths. The routine Immunization schedule starts at birth, second vaccine when the child is 6 weeks old, then 10 weeks, 14 weeks, nine months and last when a child turns 15 months old. This protects a child against 10 life-threatening diseases. However, they are not alone as Government of Pakistan is also sharing the financial burden due to the high price of thesis vaccine world over

The weakest link in this scenario is the behaviour –change communication such as counselling mothers and working in communities. The mothers need to be educated or involved in case picking up the symptoms. Mostly pneumonia deaths take place in poor and underprivileged communities of Pakistan where women are not very literate, have little formal education are dependent on males. They have problems leaving the houses unless accompanied by a male member. Due to lack of education, they go to quacks or local saints for the cure. When a health worker tells the parents that their child is very sick and should be taken to the health facility, many children are not taken to the health facility and thus die at home. Media is also not playing its due role in highlighting pneumonia.

–The writer is a freelance contributor


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