Every 20 seconds, somewhere in the world, pneumonia claims the life of a child, despite it being an easily preventable disease – and Pakistan is no exception.
Three-year-old Habib falls down in exhaustion after every few steps he takes.
His parents, hailing from Bahawalpur, are working in Karachi as domestic servants, and Habib, the prized son after three daughters, is very precious to them.
“We have taken him for dum (traditional healing) thrice to the Peer (traditional healer) in our area. We have also taken him to two doctors. They say he has pneumonia, and has had it twice already,” said Nazeeran, Habib’s worried mother, as she lifts his shirt to show how laboured his breathing is and how his chest cavity hollows when he breathes.
Timely intervention has saved Habib’s life, for now, though he struggles with recovery. All this could have been avoided with the help of a vaccine.
High mortality rate among children
Common causes of the disease are inappropriate feeding, overcrowding, indoor pollution and malnutrition.
According to fresh UN estimates, pneumococcal disease accounts for 18% of child mortality. It is one of the main causes of death among young children worldwide, claiming more young lives than Aids, malaria and measles combined.
Ironically, pneumonia is also the most avoidable.
The fourth UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is aimed at reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds, by the year 2015.
In Pakistan, pneumonia is the cause of almost one in five deaths of children under five. Some 423,000 or more Pakistani children die annually under the age of five, out of which around 100,000 are caused by pneumonia.
All that may soon change for Pakistan. A vaccination drive, starting from the third week of November, will ensure that more than five million infants in Sindh are immunised against the disease.
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), which immunises children against the deadly pneumonia and meningitis, will be introduced under Pakistan’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). The project, worth $680 million, is funded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) Alliance. Under this scheme, the Pakistani government will receive $17 million.
Adults not exempt
Shoaib Jamil, aged 36, is not under-privileged nor old, yet experienced first-hand the crippling nature of the disease.
“It started with symptoms that mimicked a common flu. It was discovered later that it was pneumonia. Getting admitted into the hospital, treatment through fluid replacement and antibiotics, and weeks of weakness followed,” Jamil said
Commonly associated with compromised immune systems, old age and third-world living conditions, pneumonia is a fatal disease if complications occur from it and it affects people from all strata, exists in both the urban and rural setups.
Common precautions against the spread of pneumonia include: not smoking, avoiding indoor air pollution and maintaining good standards of hygiene.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2012.