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Pneumonia still number one killer

In Viet Nam, every day 11 children under-five die from pneumonia. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, if symptoms are recognised early. Unfortunately in Viet Nam, only 5 per cent of mothers and caregivers are aware of the danger signs of pneumonia and only 68 per cent of children with symptoms of pneumonia are treated with antibiotics. © Photo: UNICEF Viet Nam\2011\Dominic Blewett

But there are simple solutions, say global health leaders

Ha Noi, 12 November 2012 – Marking the fourth annual World Pneumonia Day, November 12th, world leaders and the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia are calling for major efforts in the fight against childhood pneumonia, which remains the number one killer of children under age five. Globally, pneumonia claimed 1.3 million lives in 2011 alone, and was responsible for nearly one in five child deaths. In Viet Nam, every day 11 children under-five die from pneumonia.

“Pneumonia is one of the leading killers of children in Viet Nam. The greatest burden in the fight against pneumonia is falling on the poorest, who already are coping with too much. A child from a poor family is many times more likely to die of pneumonia than one in the richest 20 per cent of the population. Yet there are many ways of preventing and curing pneumonia. We know what to do, and we have made great progress – but we must do more.  We must scale-up proven solutions and ensure they reach every child in need” said Mr. Jesper Moller, UNICEF Viet Nam Deputy Representative.

According to the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia, country leaders and funders must prioritize efforts and investments in proven interventions, including access to vaccines, proper antibiotic treatment, and improved sanitation, as well as the promotion of practices such as exclusive breastfeeding, frequent hand washing, care seeking, and the use of clean cookstoves to reduce indoor air pollution. Several of these interventions also help address the second leading killer of children – diarrhoea.

Exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months can reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infection and pneumonia by up to 15 times. Unfortunately only 17 per cent of mothers exclusively breast feed in Viet Nam – the lowest rate in South East Asia.

Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, if symptoms are recognised early. Unfortunately in Viet Nam, only 5 per cent of mothers and caregivers are aware of the danger signs of pneumonia and only 68 per cent of children with symptoms of pneumonia are treated with antibiotics. Also, there is currently no community-based case management of pneumonia, which is important for vulnerable children living in remote mountainous areas most prone to pneumonia.

While trying to fight off a pneumonia infection, a child becomes more susceptible to anaemia, malnutrition and dehydration. Pneumonia has an impact on the economy, not only because child deaths and illness reduce economic productivity, but also because so much time and effort is spent by family members nursing and treating the child. Any childhood illness means less time available for mothers and caregivers to undertake economically productive activities.

Being more aware of the symptoms of pneumonia, when to seek help and understand the ways of preventing pneumonia through vaccination and breastfeeding can go a long way to reducing unnecessary suffering and death. Ensuring communities are aware of danger signs and able to handle pneumonia could help address unnecessary deaths. All these interventions can go a long way to make an economic impact in Viet Nam.

The Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP), issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2009, specified that child pneumonia deaths could be reduced by two-thirds if three child health interventions – breastfeeding, vaccination and case management including the provision of appropriate antibiotics – were scaled up to reach 90 per cent of the world’s children. 

The Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia was established in 2009 to raise awareness about the toll of pneumonia, the world’s leading killer of children, and to advocate for global action to protect against, effectively treat and help prevent this deadly illness. Comprised of over 140 non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions, government agencies and foundations, the Coalition provides leadership for World Pneumonia Day, marked every year on November 12th.

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