According to the Global Coalition Against Childhood TB (GCACP), pneumonia is the most deadly infectious illness for children under age five worldwide. From 2000 to 2015, the annual death toll from childhood pneumonia decreased from 1.7 deaths annually to 920,000 in 2015. While this is progress, approximately 2,500 children still die from pneumonia every day. This amounts to 16 percent of all child deaths.
Children all over the globe are affected by pneumonia, but a 2012 study found that low- and middle-income nations bear the largest burden: less than 1% of childhood deaths occur in developed countries and over 90% of deaths in children under-5 years of age occur in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Fifty percent pneumonia deaths occur in India.
Pneumonia has a number of bacterial, viral, and fungal causes. The illness can be caused by bacteria and viruses already present in the body, or it can be transmitted from an infected person through droplets in the air following a cough or sneeze; or through blood, such as during childbirth. During an infection, the lung’s alveoliâ€”small sacs that inflate with air when a person breathesâ€”fill with pus and fluid. Breathing becomes labored and difficult, limiting oxygen intake.
Other symptoms include: Retraction rather than expansion of the chest during inhalation; fever, sweating and shaking chills; cough, which may produce phlegm; diarrhea and vomiting; and fatigue. Pneumonia is both preventable and curable. Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, which helps to develop a naturally strong immune system in a child, and adequate nutrition and vitamin A supplements help ensure a healthy immune system, says Dr Ajay Mishra, Director and Head of Paediatrics, Nelson Hospital, India.
In addition, affordable and effective interventions like vaccines, antibiotics, hand-washing and breastfeeding have proven track records and immediate impacts. As far as prevention is concerned, providing immunisation against Haemophilusinfluenzae type b, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough, for example, is an effective means of preventing pneumonia.
The Global Coalition Against Childhood Pneumonia estimates that increased vaccine coverage in the world’s 73 poorest countries could avoid 2.9 million deaths and 52 million cases of infection attributable to the disease. Economically, such a move would avoid $51 billion dollars in health costs and productivity losses.
More than half of childhood pneumonia deaths are caused at least in part by indoor household pollution, such as that caused by certain cook stoves. WHO recommends amoxicillin dispersible tablets as the only firstline treatment for children under age five diagnosed with pneumonia, costing about $0.21-0.42USD per treatment.
Health workers can use a pulse oximeter to assess the level of oxygen in the blood and provide lifesaving oxygen therapy. Improving access to health services, along with other cost-effective health care strategies such as integrated case management, are essential to controlling the disease. Only 60% of caregivers seek out adequate care for suspected pneumonia cases, and only one-third of pneumonia cases are addressed with the proper antibiotic treatment.”