KARACHI: Despite the fact that free vaccination is available in Pakistan, pneumonia is killing as many as 92,000 children under the age of five annually, health experts revealed on Tuesday during a press briefing to mark the upcoming World Pneumonia Day on November 12.
According to the World Health Organisation estimates, pneumonia accounts for 16% of the total child deaths, making it the leading cause of children’s deaths globally. “Globally, pneumonia accounts for more than 920,000 deaths among children and Pakistan is among the top five countries which account for 99% of those cases,” said Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) President Dr Jamal Raza, who also serves as the head of National Institute of Child Health (NICH).
“Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli (small sacs in lungs which fill with air when a healthy person breathes) are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake,” said Dr Raza. “It is to be noted that vaccines are considered second only to potable water in reducing infectious diseases,” he added.
“Children under five with severe cases of pneumonia may struggle to breathe, with their chests moving in or retracting during inhalation,” said PPA General-Secretary Dr Khalid Shafi. “Infants may suffer from convulsions, unconsciousness, hypothermia, lethargy and feeding problems,” he added.
Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common causes of pneumonia amongst children include streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
PPA Vice-President and Paediatrics Professor at Baqai Medical University Dr Jalal Akber said, “Preventing children from developing pneumonia is critical to reducing its death toll. Fortunately, the pneumonia vaccine was introduced in Pakistan’s expanded programme on immunisation in October, 2012, and this achievement made Pakistan the first South Asian country to include packed cell volume in its national immunisation programme.”
PPA Karachi Chapter Chairperson Dr Jameel Akhter said, “Proper nutrition, potable water and vaccines are important to fight pneumonia. Vaccines against pneumococcus, Hib, pertussis, and measles can prevent a significant portion of pneumonia cases from ever occurring.
“Preventing pneumonia averts treatment costs, other loses due to illness, and allows children to become healthy, productive adults,” said Dr Akhter. Vaccines save millions of children from dying of pneumonia. Parents’ participation for immunisation and increase in vaccine coverage would also save 2.9 million lives and prevent 52 million cases of illness [in Pakistan], he concluded.