The Ministry of Health (MoH) early this week launched the ‘Mother and Child Health Week’ as a way of countering the causes of deaths in children and mothers which is among the top priorities of the second term of President Paul Kagame.
•Pneumonia kills very many children under the age of five, claiming a young life every 20 seconds.
• For every child that dies from pneumonia in the industrialized world, 2000 more die in developing countries.
•Pneumonia is one of the most solvable problems in global health. We have the safe, effective and affordable tools necessary to help prevent children from contracting pneumonia, and to treat those suffering with this illness.
•The fight against pneumonia can be won. Estimates indicate that more than one million children’s lives can be saved annually with widespread use of vaccines and improved access to antibiotics.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, filling them with fluid
•It causes cough and fever and can make breathing difficult.
•Severe pneumonia can be deadly.
Who is most at risk?
•In developing countries, children under five and especially under two years of age are at risk, especially in the poorest communities.
•The elderly are also at risk.
•Tobacco smoke and other indoor air pollution can also increase chances of being more susceptible to pneumonia.
•Some children and adults are at greater risk because they have other illnesses, such as heart disease, HIV/AIDS. People with HIV stand a much greater chance of dying from pneumonia than those who do not have HIV.
•Children who are poorly nourished can also have weakened immune systems, putting them at higher risk of contracting pneumonia.
What causes pneumonia?
•Many organisms can cause pneumonia.
•Globally, bacteria such as Hib and pneumococcus are estimated to cause more than 50% of pneumonia deaths in children under 5 years of age.
•Viruses and fungi can also cause pneumonia infections.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
•In resource-poor settings, pneumonia can be diagnosed by the symptoms it causes, including cough, fever and difficulty or fast breathing.
How is pneumonia prevented and treated?
•Some pneumonia can often be prevented with vaccines against Hib and pneumococcus.
• Measles and pertussis (whooping cough) infections can result in pneumonia complications, so vaccinating against these childhood diseases can prevent some pneumonia cases.
•Inexpensive antibiotics can effectively treat pneumonia at the community level.
Pneumonia causes needless suffering and stress on families
•Pneumonia also causes needless suffering through illness and hospitalization.
•Each year, there are more than 150 million episodes of pneumonia in young children in developing countries, and more than 11 million children need hospitalization for pneumonia.
We can we protect children from pneumonia
•Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life is an important and easy way to help protect children from pneumonia and many other diseases.
•Other strategies, like good nutrition for older children hand-washing and reducing indoor air pollution from cook stoves and tobacco smoke can also help protect children from pneumonia.
•Vaccines are a safe and effective tool for preventing pneumonia before it occurs.
•Vaccines against two of the main causes of life-threatening pneumonia –pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae b) are used throughout the developed world. (Rwanda was the first African country to introduce Pneumococcal vaccine, in 2009; thanks to our leaders). Measles and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines can prevent infections that can lead to pneumonia as a complication.
•The treatment for most types of serious pneumonia is usually antibiotics, which are available even in our rural health centers.
•Effective “case management” strategies can help to ensure that children receive the right treatment for pneumonia quickly, even in the poorest communities.
•It is the responsibility of everybody to ensure that all Rwandan children are immunized with all the available vaccines
•All health care workers and community leaders should encourage their people to seek medical advice very early
•All Health Workers should follow treatment guidelines offered to them by the MOH
The authors are members of the Rwanda paediatric Association.