An analysis conducted by aid group Save the Children (STC) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has revealed that nearly 11 million children could fall prey to pneumonia by the year 2030, including 706,000 from Pakistan.
Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. It causes inflammation of the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli) which fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia accounts for 16 percent of death of children under five-years old, making it the single largest cause of infectious mortality in children worldwide. It can be prevented by immunization, provision of adequate nutrition and tackling environmental factors that may help the disease spread.
It should be noted that child deaths from pneumonia is a phenomenon that is practically exclusive to the developing world. 99 percent of all child deaths from the disease take place in developing countries, while in developed countries, pneumonia related deaths seem to occur exclusively in patients over the age of 65.
Pneumonia-related child mortality continues to be a problem in Pakistan despite the fact that the anti-pneumonia pneumococcal vaccination has been available in the country for free since 2014. This is because there are certain limits to the vaccine as long as other health issues remain unaddressed.
Poor nutrition for example, would mean that patients would not be able to mount a full immune response to the vaccine. The nutritional status of children under five-years of age is extremely poor in Pakistan. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reports that 40 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, with half of these children affected by stunted growth.
Furthermore, air borne pathogens that cause pneumonia thrive in densely populated quarters with poor hygienic conditions. But these are exactly the conditions in which a significant portion of the country’s urban population lives.
Speaking to MIT Technology Review, a doctor formerly associated with the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi also said that the vaccine available for free in Pakistani hospitals is meant to fight streptococcus bacteria — the most common cause of pneumonia — but there are several other pathogens which can cause the disease. He added that improving the nutritional status of Pakistani children as well as improving the state of hygiene in the country’s urban centers was central to lowering pneumonia rates among Pakistani children.
Along with Pakistan, the forecast given by STC and JHU predicts that Nigeria, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo are likely to bear the highest burden of child deaths over the next eleven years.
Lamenting the lack of attention this issue receives globally, STC CEO Paul Ronalds stated “There are no pink ribbons, global summits or marches for pneumonia. But for anyone who cares about justice for children and their access to essential healthcare, this forgotten killer should be the defining cause of our age.”