Health experts believe that the latest introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) is not the only option to control the spread of pneumonia in Pakistan.
They said there were many other issues which were directly interlinked to its cause, such as malnutrition, a weak immune system, poverty, illiteracy, air pollution, and most importantly, not getting immunised against the disease.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Dr Imran Raja, medical officer at the pediatrics department of the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, said that every day the emergency department of the hospital receives 50 fresh cases of pneumonia.
Dr Raja said that almost 98 % of these children are under the age of five and belong to low- income families. They live in congested areas of the city, are malnourished and are not vaccinated against pneumonia. “Every day, out of these 50 children, four to five die in the hospital, which is alarming,” he claimed.
He said the vaccine is effective only when the child’s immune system is strong and lives in a healthy and clean environment.
Dr Jan Alam, who runs his private hospital in Bara Kahu, a suburban neighbourhood in Islamabad, said that there was a need to address the root causes of fatal diseases in order to effectively combat them.
In the rural areas, a majority of the households are deprived of the basic necessities of life, such as clean drinking water, electricity and natural gas. Having a cold water shower, unable to afford warm clothes and sleeping on cold floors for a lack of bedding ultimately causes pneumonia and many other diseases, Dr Alam stated.
K-P silent over World Pneumonia Day
While health experts across the rest of the country marked World Pneumonia Day to raise awareness among the masses regarding precautionary measures to prevent pneumonia and its treatment, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) was indifferent towards it.
Provincial data shows that 50 out of 973 children admitted to hospitals below the age of five died during the first six months of 2012, while five people above the age of five out of 870 admitted lost their lives to pneumonia in K-P.
A total of 36,375 patients of pneumonia below the age of five and 29,292 above the age of five years were registered in government hospitals across the province between April and September, 2012.
“The lack of awareness, malnutrition and traditional treatment at houses made pneumonia the number one killer of children,” Professor Dr Gohar Rehman, dean of the Khyber Institute of Child Health, told The Express Tribune. He added that the influx of people from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas had increased the number of patients in the province, while 90% of children in the internally displaced people camps were suffering from pneumonia.
Adviser to the Punjab Chief Minister on Health Kh Salman Rafique said that a campaign was being launched under the leadership of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for controlling diseases related to infant mortality. He said that a strict monitoring and surveillance policy will be adopted for achieving the target of routine immunisation at the district and tehsil levels.
Rafique was addressing a seminar regarding World Pneumonia Day and the inclusion of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in the routine immunisation programme of children on Monday.
Director General of Health, Punjab Dr Nisar Cheema said the government was taking revolutionary measures for the uplift of the health sector and controlling diseases, especially among children.
Provincial coordinator of Unicef, Dr Mushtaq Rana said that in a country where 30,000 children die due to pneumonia every year, the introduction of the vaccine was an important step taken by the government to fight the disease.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR CORRESPONDENT IN LAHORE)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2012.