The international community, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has just marked World Pneumonia Day to, among other issues, raise awareness about the disease, considered the world’s leading infectious killer of children under the age of five. World health authorities are disturbed that if effective measures are not put in place, and urgently too, the ailment will kill 11 million children by 2030 thus making it the most infectious killer of infants worldwide. This statistic, as chilly as it is, should not be regarded as scaremongering because, in the next 12 years, those number of children are at risk of death from this disease. This, indeed, is worrisome. This year’s theme: “Stop Pneumonia: Invest in Child captures the essence of control measures against a disease that denies peace to babies.
Effort to combat the baby snatcher started on a global scale in 2009. Since then it has been marked every year on November 12 to promote interventions to protect against, prevent, and treat pneumonia and highlight proven approaches and solutions in need of additional resources and attention; generate action, including continued donor investment, to combat pneumonia and other common, yet sometimes deadly, childhood diseases.
Despite being easily preventable and treatable, the disease has continued to pose as a menace to child health. Although vaccines and other preventative efforts are helping to check what is fast becoming a scourge, much more work is still required to ensure that the 2030 prediction never comes to pass. As is to be expected, those living in poor communities are at greater risk of pneumonia. Every child, regardless of where they are born, deserves access to lifesaving vaccines and medicines.
Medical experts describe pneumonia as a lung infection which can be serious and life-threatening. Actually, it kills more infants than measles, diarrhoea and malaria put together. Early symptoms of the disease are similar to that of cold or flu. The infection can be viral, bacterial or fungal. This is followed by high fever, sputum, chills and cough. The infection results in rusty or green phlegm, chest pain which worsens with taking deep breaths, fatigue and weakness, muscle pain and headache. A person suffering from pneumonia is likely to get purplish skin colour because of poorly oxygenated blood. Symptoms of pneumonia can range in severity depending on the type of pneumonia and its underlying health condition.
However, pneumonia treatment will depend on its severity. Bacterial kinds of pneumonia can be treated with the help of antibiotics. Viral kinds of pneumonia can be treated by taking plenty of rest and lots of fluids. Fungal pneumonia infections can be treated with the help of anti-fungal medications. Some over-the-counter medications can help in reducing fever, pains and suppressing cough.
The key to treating pneumonia and preventing it from getting fatal is early diagnosis and a relatively strong immune system. However, it has to be noted that young children who are weak because of malnutrition are the ones most hit by pneumonia. Though majority of the patients are babies, in developed and even in developing countries, under certain conditions that have to do with exposure to inclement weather, pneumonia is likely to affect the elderly too.
A study by John Hopkins University in the United States of America pointed out that countries like Nigeria and India will carry highest burden of pneumonia, with 1.7 million estimated deaths. The study also mentioned that wider coverage of pneumonia vaccination along with cheaper antibiotics and proper nutrition can help in saving lives of 4.1 million children.
To mark the day in Nigeria, Save the Children International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health launched the Pneumonia Global Report titled, “Fighting for Breath, A Call to Action in Childhood Pneumonia. In the report, it was noted that the disease killed about 920,000 children in 2015. The National Medical Association (NMA), is concerned that the disease it describes as a “silent killer” places a huge burden on families and the health system in Nigeria. The association said that the country is one of the 15 countries responsible for 70 per cent of global deaths attributable to pneumonia and diarrhoea among under five.
UNICEF in Nigeria, on its part, said that everyday should be considered world pneumonia day because the disease is the leading cause of death of children all over the world and called for a combined effort from all partners it hopes will lead to zero pneumonia in Nigeria and even in the world.