International News, Research

‘9 million children at risk to contract pneumonia’

BARCELONA: According to a new analysis found, boosting efforts to fight pneumonia could avert nearly 9 million child deaths from pneumonia and other major diseases. This was featured ahead of the first-ever global forum on childhood pneumonia in Barcelona

According to Johns Hopkins University, scaling up pneumonia treatment and prevention services could save the lives of 3.2 million children under the age of five. It would also create ‘a ripple effect’ that would prevent 5.7 million extra child deaths from other major childhood diseases at the same time, underscoring the need for integrated health services.

It is pertinent to mention here that Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. It is the biggest single killer of children, claiming the lives of 800,000 children last year, or one child every 39 seconds. Although some types of pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines and can be easily treated with low-cost antibiotics if properly diagnosed, tens of millions of children are still unvaccinated – and one in three children with symptoms do not receive essential medical care.

The analysis stated that Child deaths from pneumonia were concentrated in the world’s poorest countries, and it was the most deprived and marginalized children who suffered the most. Forecasts showed 6.3 million children under the age of five could die from pneumonia between 2020 and 2030, on current trends. Over the next decade, deaths were likely to be highest in Nigeria (1.4 million), India (880,000), the Democratic Republic of Congo (350,000), and Ethiopia (280,000), report stated.

Health interventions aimed at improving nutrition, providing antibiotics and increasing vaccine coverage, boosting breastfeeding rates and certain key measures that reduce the risk of children dying from pneumonia – would also prevent millions of child deaths from diseases like diarrhea (2.1 million), sepsis (1.3 million), and measles (280,000).

Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive of Save the Children, said, “The number of lives that could be saved is potentially far higher as the modeling did not take account of factors like availability of medical oxygen, or action to reduce levels of air pollution, a major risk factor for pneumonia. These results show what is possible. It would be morally indefensible to stand and allow millions of children to continue to die for want of vaccines, affordable antibiotics, and routine oxygen treatment.”

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), noted, “If we are serious about saving the lives of children, we have to get serious about fighting pneumonia. As the current coronavirus outbreak shows, this means improving timely detection and prevention. It means making the right diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment. It also means addressing the major causes of pneumonia deaths like malnutrition, lack of access to vaccines and antibiotics, and tackling the more difficult challenge of air pollution.”

According to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME-GBD), outdoor air pollution contributed to 17.5% – or nearly one in five – pneumonia deaths among children under five worldwide. Household pollution from the indoor use of solid cooking fuels contributes to an additional 195,000 (29.4%) deaths, study stated.

91% of the world’s population was breathing outdoor air that exceeds the WHO standards. The scale of the air pollution challenge could potentially undermine the impact of scaling up pneumonia-related interventions, study notified.

Other causes of pneumonia deaths included malnutrition and lack of access to vaccines and antibiotics. According to the Johns Hopkins modeling, of the total 8.9 million deaths from all causes that could be averted over the next decade, 3.9 million would be the result of greater efforts to reduce levels of malnutrition alone.

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said, “Pneumococcal pneumonia is an easily preventable, often treatable disease – no parent should go through the agony of losing their child to this disease. Over the past decade, we have made progress in boosting the number of children receiving the lifesaving pneumococcal vaccine, and we must keep up these efforts to protect the next generation against this deadly disease. Gavi’s donor pledging conference in June will offer the international community the chance to help us do so.”

Quique Bassat, a Research Professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and Chair of the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia, said, “The disease that kills most children in the world cannot be neglected any longer in terms of its scarce global research funding. Research and innovation need to drive policy change, and lead the way for further decreases in pneumonia-attributable mortality.”

Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of the Every Breath Counts Coalition, stated, “This analysis shows that collective action to protect children from pneumonia could boost national efforts to achieve the SDG for child survival. Governments and international development agencies must act urgently to protect the most vulnerable children from malnutrition and exposure to air pollution, and ensure that they receive pneumonia-fighting vaccines and speedy diagnosis, child-friendly antibiotics and oxygen if they become sick. If they do not, 9 million children’s lives are at stake.”

Recently, the nine leading health and children’s organizations – ISGlobal, Save the Children, UNICEF, Every Breath Counts, “la Caixa” Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, Unitaid and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – are hosting world leaders at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Barcelona, the first international forum on childhood pneumonia.

-MN Report

February 5, 2020

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