Karachi: Treating pneumonia in casual manner could affect a child severely in shape of disability to an extent of death, therefore, parents must get their children vaccinated at any EPI centers across the country with vaccine that is available free of cost, said Director National Institute of Child Health (NICH) Dr Syed Jamal Raza.
Jamal Raza while elaborating the devastation of the disease, he said approximately 70 children (under the age of 5 years) die each day in Pakistan due to pneumococcal pneumonia. The natural disasters like floods, Tsunami, torrential rains, earthquakes and droughts never killed such huge number of children as did Pneumonia alone in the subcontinent or in third world countries, he added.
Meanwhile, endorsing the facts Chairman National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) Dr. Tariq Bhutta said with the launch of free-of-cost pneumococcal vaccine, Pakistan stands a bright chance to come closer to achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through reducing child mortality rate which is quite high in the country.
According to the reports, Pneumonia kills an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five years every year over the world – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. “Here in Pakistan the lack of awareness among masses has been furthering the rise of chronic diseases, which is alarming,’ he added.
But, he adds, luckily expensive pneumonia control vaccinations are being provided free of cost at EPIcenters in the country, as the government of Pakistan is introducing pneumococcal vaccine in the EPI programme with the help of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Moreover, Dr. Tariq Bhutta added that reducing child mortality rate is one of the eight MDGs, which are the world’s time bound targets for reducing poverty in its various dimensions by 2015. Pakistan is heading towards achieving that targets, while the MDG on child mortality will require urgent action to control childhood deaths by pneumonia, which is 19 percent of the all the deaths of under-five children in the country.
Dr. Bhutta said that Pneumonia kills more children than any other illness – more than Aids, Malaria and Measles combined. ‘Yet, little attention is paid to this disease. After free availability of pneumonia vaccine at all government hospitals public awareness regarding the availability of vaccine needs to be increased for the EPI program to have its full time impact.
It is worth adding that Pneumonia is a severe form of acute lower respiratory infection that specifically affects the lungs. ‘Chest X-rays and laboratory tests are done to confirm the extent and location of the Pneumonia infection and its cause,’ he said, adding that but here in Pakistan suspected cases of pneumonia are diagnosed by their clinical symptoms due to non-availability of latest technologies. This becomes severe when transformed to other organs through the bloodstream causing meningitis, bacterimia and sepsis.
Dr Bhutta further said that during or shortly after birth babies are at higher risk of developing pneumonia. The statistics of World Health Organization (WHO) show that more than 150 million episodes of pneumonia occur every year among children under five in developing countries, accounting for more than 90 per cent of all new cases worldwide. Between 11 million and 20 million children with pneumonia will require hospitalization, and almost 1.8 million will die from the disease.
But, he adds, luckily Pakistan is fortunate in the sense that pneumonia prevention vaccine has been provided free of cost by GAVI Alliance, a global NGO, to vaccinate all 5 million babies that are born every year in Pakistan. ‘A course of three injections to newborns was previously costing approximately Rs 14000, but with the funding of GAVI this treatment is available free of cost across the country for the masses. Three vaccines include the measles, Hib and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines have the potential to significantly reduce child deaths from pneumonia,’ he added.
It is to be noted that immunizations help reduce childhood deaths from pneumonia in two ways: first, vaccinations help prevent children from developing infections that directly cause pneumonia such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); secondly, immunizations may prevent infections that can lead to pneumonia as a complication (e.g., measles and pertussis).
Dr Tariq Bhutta encouraged all parents to take their infants at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of ages to the government EPI center and hospitals in their vicinity for vaccination.