Stopping pneumonia through innovation, action

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By Musarrat Farooqui

Children represent the future of every nation, and it is every nation’s responsibility to ensure their health, growth, and development. The12 November ‘World Pneumonia Day’ recalls us to ensure and protect children’s health and well-being through action and innovation to accelerate progress in combating pneumonia and diarrhea. On this day we should join others in raising awareness of the disease and taking action to tackle it. Pneumonia is a preventable and treatable disease. Yet it is still one of the world’s leading causes of death in children under five years old: in previous years almost one million children under five lost their lives due to this deadly disease. Pakistan has one of the highest childhood death burdens in the world, and pneumonia is the main single cause of death. Almost four children die from pneumonia every minute – that’s 1.2 million children each year, accounting for 18 percent of all deaths in under fives. As a contributor to the pneumonia burden, the country has a significant indoor air pollution (IAP) problem. Biomass fuel (wood, crop residues, animal dung) which is being used in four fifths of all households in Pakistan is the major source of IAP when it is burned for cooking, space heating and lighting homes. It is unfortunate that no one is ready to take the responsibility of the health sector. The federal government claims that after the 18th amendment it has become the responsibility of the provinces to deal with the health sector. On the other hand, provinces do not have the capacity to tackle the health-related issues. Because of the security situation and floods, a large number of people were displaced in the country during the last a decade. So the number of affected people could not be reduced. We need political will to control the diseases. Though, the progress is too much slow. As the global community continues to set ambitious goals, we need to make sure that efforts are increased to achieve the existing goals, as well as future targets set at the country and subnational levels. This is the only way that global targets will be met. Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of deaths in children under five years old despite being easily preventable and treatable. Although vaccines and other preventative efforts are decreasing the burden of the disease, much more work is still required. Those living in poor communities are at highest risk of pneumonia. Every child, regardless of where they are born, deserves access to lifesaving vaccines and medicines. The major challenge for poor communities in these areas is lack of access to good healthcare services. The displaced people are unable to access healthcare, and potentially vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease. Accessible health information is also needed to help parents recognise early symptoms of pneumonia in their children so they can access treatment quickly. The health workers and community volunteers will be trained to help prevent childhood illnesses including pneumonia remote communities need more health education on preventing and managing disease. A research carried out by the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, mentioned that in 1991 the country had an immunisation coverage of 86 percent but sadly the current figure stands at 53.8 percent due to misconception by different sect of thought. Now it is parent as well as the government have to play an increasingly important role to get the immunisation coverage on a higher level. “Immunisation is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating 10 life-threatening infectious diseases, thus one of the most cost-effective health investments,” experts add. The EPI is a disease prevention activity which aimed at reducing illness and mortality from childhood diseases that are preventable by immunisation. He elaborated that there are nine diseases in the EPI programme of Pakistan, including poliomyelitis, measles, pneumococcal disease and diphtheria, which were responsible for millions of disabilities and deaths around the world each year. Regretting the current state of immunisation coverage, he claimed that the country had a higher immunisation ratio in the past. “Vaccination is incredibly important in the fight against pneumonia, as it aims at preventing the disease rather than curing it. In other words, helping to fight the disease before it is able to cause long term damage to the patient. Vaccination is also important because it helps us to reduce our reliance on antibiotics, which in turn will help curb the rise of antimicrobial resistance”. Pneumonia is contagious and is usually transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending small droplets that contain the germ into the air. Bacteria cause about 60% of pneumonia cases in the developing world, which means they can be treated with antibiotics. Pneumonia kills more children than HIV, malaria and measles combined. A data which collected from all over the different areas of Sindh public health departments revealed alarming situation. Which are that water supply of the filtration plants are not working which has been placed years ago. The 100 percent Sindh people has no clean and fresh water to during almost 80 percent water supplies are polluted with drain or dirty supply lines. The rural areas of Sindh like Thar have no healthcare facilities and according to a report nearly 200 health units had been without medicines for the last many years. He elaborated that Pakistan is allocating 80 percent of health budget which is spent only 30 percent on urban areas and 20 percent spend for rural population which is three time larger than the urban areas. “In Pakistan there are140 medical colleges and every year 14000 doctors produced in which 1200 are specialists but they prefer to go abroad because of less opportunity here”. As the Sustaibale Developent Goals (SDGs) focus on issues of poverty and equity, more deliberate investments, actions and use of quality data and monitoring are needed to ensure that issues of access are addressed in places where burden is highest, including areas of conflict. Concerted efforts are needed to ensure there is sufficient supply of the appropriate treatments in places where the need is greatest and that prevention remains a priority. Renewed focus on implementing policies for interventions that work is essential to ensure that these products are accessible and can be administered by trained local health workers. —(The writer is a Karachi based freelance journalist.)

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