On Global Pneumonia Day, some of the leading paediatricians in the country have lamented that despite the availability of free vaccination services, thousands of children under the age of five continue to die because of the disease.
Pakistan is among the top five countries in the world which accounts for 99 per cent of all childhood Pneumonia cases and sees around 92,000 children under-five-years of age die from the disease every year.
Globally too, according to the World Health Organisation estimates, pneumonia accounts for 16 per cent of all child deaths, making it one of the leading killers of children under five years of age.
Globally, Pneumonia accounts for more than 920,000 deaths among children under- five, WHO says.
“This is very unfortunate since the free vaccine against pneumonia is available under the Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI) and loss of precious lives can be prevented. Yet the children die of this disease,” said Professor Dr Rai Asghar, president of the Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) Central and dean of paediatrics at the Rawalpindi Medical University and Allied Hospital
In a statement, Dr Asghar said that pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection which affects the lungs.
“When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli (small sacs in lungs which fill with air when a healthy person breathes) are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake. It is to be noted that vaccines are considered second only to clean drinking water in reducing infectious diseases,”
“Children under five with severe cases of Pneumonia may struggle to breathe, with their chests moving in or retracting during inhalation (known as ‘lower chest wall in drawing’). Young infants may suffer from convulsions, unconsciousness, hypothermia, lethargy and feeding problems,” Dr Asghar added.
Professor Dr Shahzad Munir, president PPA Federal said, “Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi.”
The most common causes of pneumonia amongst children include streptococcus pneumoniae and haemophilus Influenzae Type-B (Hib), he added.
“Preventing children from developing pneumonia in the first place is critical to reducing its toll. Fortunately, Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) was introduced in Pakistan’s EPI programme in October 2012, and this made Pakistan the first South Asian country to include PCV in its national immunisation programme,” he explained.
“Proper nutrition, clean drinking water and vaccines are important to fight Pneumonia. Vaccines against pneumococcus, hib, pertussis, and measles can prevent a significant portion of Pneumonia cases from ever occurring,’ said a seasoned paediatrician Professor (retired) Dr Tabish Hazir.
“Preventing pneumonia averts treatment costs; other loses due to illness, and allows children to become healthy, productive adults. Vaccines hold the promise of saving millions of children from dying of Pneumonia. Parents participation in immunisation and increase in vaccine coverage would also save 2.9 million lives and prevent 52 million cases of illness,” he concluded.
According to the EPI, Pneumococcus is a germ which causes most of the severe cases of pneumonia, and many cases of meningitis and bloodstream infections in children in Pakistan.
Infections are preventable by vaccine, which is given as a shot to infants and toddlers. It helps prevent pneumococcal disease, and also stops the disease from spreading from person to person. Three doses of this vaccine are administered in the first year, preferably at six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks of age. The fourth dose is given at 15 months of age. Even if a child has missed the vaccine at these ages, they can be given later as well.
Correspondent. Pneumonia continues to kill thousands in Pakistan. The Express Tribune, November 13, 2017.