At least 80,701 pneumonia patients below the age of five and 3,162 above the age of five were registered in government hospitals of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) from January to October 2013.
According to a UNICEF report, Pakistan has around five million children under age five. Of these, 329,000 die before celebrating their fifth birthday, and 13% deaths occur due to pneumonia.
Other reports say 15 countries account for three-quarters of paediatric pneumonia cases worldwide – Pakistan is the third-largest contributor, with seven million cases each year.
Lady Health Workers (LHW) K-P Coordinator Dr Tahir Nadeem Khan told The Express Tribune 89 out of every 1,000 children in Pakistan die before reaching their fifth birthday. A majority of these children die before they turn one due to entirely preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. “Due to a lack of awareness, only 1% of women in K-P can identify early signs of pneumonia in children,” added Khan.
The numbers shared by Khan do not paint a very positive outlook. The statistics point to a vulnerable younger population. According to the doctor, at least 38% of children in Pakistan are underweight. He went on to share that only 37% of six-month-olds are exclusively breastfed, 47% of infants fully immunised and only 69% of children under age five with pneumonia are taken to an appropriate health care provider.
This is why, Dr Khan added, this time the Mother and Child Week also focused on the prevention and home management of acute respiratory illnesses.
According to K-P secretary heath department Ghulam Qadir Khan, reducing pneumonia-related deaths requires implementing effective prevention measures. The health department is taking steps and creating awareness among women through LHWs, claimed Ghulam.
Every pregnant woman will also receive training on recognising symptoms in both mothers and newborns. So far, this initiative has been taken in 23 districts of the province, he shared. Approximately 13,000 LHWs and 500 lady health supervisors are involved in the activity alongside vaccinators and health care providers from 736 health facilities, said the secretary health department.
Ghulam added the government now plans to incentivise healthcare for mothers to be. The government will provide money to women who come for check-ups to health care centres during their pregnancy. Rs500 per visit will be provided to the women for their expenses.
Warning signs of pneumonia
Pneumonia is a lung infection which can make both adults and children very sick. Although the infection can clear up in a few weeks, it can take a very serious turn in children without proper medical treatment.
Some forms of pneumonia are highly contagious.
Symptoms a child can display:
Fever, sweating, chills
Loss of appetite
Cough (often with mucus), laboured breathing , wheezing
Flaring (widening) of the nostrils
Bluish tint to the lips or nails, caused by decreased oxygen in the bloodstream
*Information regarding symptoms has been taken from http://www.webmd.com/lung/tc/pneumonia-symptoms and http://www.healthychildren.org/english/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/pages/Pneumonia.aspx
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2013.