Pneumonia is preventable, it shouldn’t kill

Wednesday March 18 2020

The Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia was hosted last week in Barcelona, Spain, more than a decade since the first summit.

The recent summit, organised by Save the Children and other partner organisations, was aimed at raising the profile of pneumonia as a disease that kills many children globally.

Pneumonia is largely preventable through vaccination yet many children are suffering and dying from the disease.

In 2018, for instance, a report that Save the Children released jointly with Unicef on World Pneumonia Day revealed that more than 9,000 children under the age of five years died from the disease in Kenya. That is equivalent to more than 24 children dying every day, or a child death every hour.

But how can such a high number of children be dying when we know that there are interventions to prevent and treat pneumonia?

Unlike other diseases, pneumonia is largely forgotten on the global and national health agenda. Its symptoms are often mistaken for many other childhood ailments since they present as fever, fatigue, pain, wheezing, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, runny nose. No wonder it often goes undetected and undiagnosed until the patient is critically ill.

In Kenya, as is the situation in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the burden of pneumonia is still huge and requires increased investment for interventions. These include vaccination and use of antibiotics like Amoxicillin DT, which could lead to massive reduction in pneumonia mortality among children.

Besides, I have seen first-hand the role of proper nutrition in combating pneumonia. Malnutrition weakens the body’s immune system, and many children who suffer from malnutrition are likely to get pneumonia.

And it is the poorest children who are most at risk of the deadly disease because of high rates of malnutrition and lack of access to basic quality health services for vaccinations and diagnosis of common childhood illnesses.

Progress to address the number of children dying from pneumonia is not fast enough. We can, and must, change this. It is our collective call on all leaders to put pneumonia on the global and national agenda.

It is necessary to deliver the necessary solutions to combat childhood pneumonia. It is possible through universal health coverage (UHC) and equitable access to quality primary healthcare to prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia.

We must endeavour to make the necessary global and national commitments to stop children from dying of pneumonia.

In a world where it is solely our responsibility to protect them, it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of children, who have little say on decisions which affect their future.

Ms Wang is the country director, Save the Children Kenya and Madagascar. [email protected]