Protect every child from pneumonia – Invest in India’s future

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Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents including viruses, bacteria and fungi. Pneumonia is one of the most solvable problems in global health and yet a child dies from the infection every 20 seconds. Globally, it kills an estimated 1.4 million children every year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. At present, it is the biggest infectious killer of children under 5 accounting for 16 per cent of deaths. The chilling fact is that more than 1.7 lakh children in India under the age of 5 have lost their lives to pneumonia last year. In India, Pneumonia, diarrhoea and complications in newborns account for most deaths of children under the age of five. More than 9.5 lakh children world-wide have lost their lives to a disease that can easily be prevented and treated.

What causes pneumonia?

Germs called bacteria or viruses usually cause pneumonia.

Pneumonia usually starts when you breathe the germs into your lungs. You may be more likely to get the disease after having a cold or flu. These illnesses make it hard for your lungs to fight infection, so it is easier to get pneumonia. Having a long-term, or chronic, disease like asthma, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes also makes you more likely to get pneumonia.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

Cough. You will likely cough up mucus from your lungs. Mucus may be rusty or green or tinged with blood.

Fever. Fast breathing and feeling short of breath.

Shaking and “teeth-chattering” chills.

Chest pain that often feels worse when you cough or breathe in.

Fast heartbeat.

Feeling very tired or very weak.

Nausea and vomiting.

Diarrhea.

Now it is time to increase the political and societal will, motivation and action to reduce pneumonia and diarrhea. National access to Hib and PCV vaccines is a crucial component in the battle to prevent illness and death from childhood pneumonia. An investment to protect every child from pneumonia is an investment in India’s future and social justice. Controlling childhood pneumonia required correct and consistent delivery of an integrated package of interventions to protect, prevent, and treat the disease. Prevention is essential to interrupt the vicious cycle of ill health and poverty. Vaccines not only keep children from getting sick but protect the community by reducing the circulation of disease.

The World Health Organisation’s new guidelines on indoor air quality set targets for reducing harmful household pollutants and offer greater clarity on specific fuels considered unsafe for use in the home. WHO has urged the world community to step up efforts to reduce children’s exposure to toxic smoke from indoor cooking fumes and increase the proportion of babies fed with breast milk, especially in the critical months after birth. We need to strengthen efforts to bring down decrease infant child mortality due to pneumonia. Clean environment, addressing malnutrition, encouraging breast feeding, timely immunisation will reduce mortality rate.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)