Fighting child deaths from COVID-19 respiratory infections

Life-saving oxygen therapy for a critical illness

Marcus Wootton and Dr Sarabibi Thuzarwin
UNICEF Myanmar
Dr Khin Khin Htun, Senior Paediatric Consultant, Monywa Hospital
26 January 2021

AYARDAW, Sagaing – Eleven-month-old Mg Myat Thu began to feel unwell last November. He developed a high fever and a cough, lacked appetite and became lethargic. When his condition deteriorated, his parents took him to the regional hospital in Monywa, over 40km from their home in Ayardaw Town.

On arrival at the hospital, Mg Myat Thu had become critically ill. An early rapid assessment by the clinical team showed his oxygen level was dangerously low and the infection was rapidly progressing through his body. To make matters worse, he also has an underlying heart condition which lowered his chances of survival. 

In Myanmar, every year, around 10,000 children die of acute respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia. This figure is probably an underestimate as the latest data shows that less than two thirds of children with suspected pneumonia have access to appropriate clinical care.

Although enhancing the treatment of acute respiratory infections has been a long-term priority, there was an enormous drive in 2020 to prevent factors that make children hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. In four regions of Myanmar, with the support of UNICEF and partners, the Myanmar Paediatric Society and the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health rapidly deployed more respiratory equipment and supplies to local hospitals. These efforts were part of the award-winning Myanmar Neonatal and Emergency Paediatric Care Programme.

UNICEF Myanmar
Dr Khin Khin Htun, Senior Paediatric Consultant, Monywa Hospital
Oxygen concentrator provided to Monywa Hospital with CERF support through UNICEF

The hospital where Mg Myat Thu was treated had been provided with two new oxygen concentrators with the support of the United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund via UNICEF. One of oxygen concentrators was given to Mg Myat Thu, bringing his oxygen level back up to a normal level. The levels were then monitored through the latest equipment, a RAD-G Saturation monitoring device that was also supplied to the hospital. In the past, the hospital had been largely reliant on cylinders which sometimes failed to meet the increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in some scenarios, patients were left with no oxygen supply.

Nevertheless, successful treatment of complex respiratory cases requires human dedication and care. This was proven by the team in the Monywa regional hospital and with the story of Mg Myat Thu. Just a few days after Mg Myat Thu was admitted to hospital, his health began to improve significantly. By the ninth day he was sitting up, eating and playing again. “The concentrators have been very useful for us. We have had around five children on them each day. Sometimes the number is up to 30 children per week,” said Dr. Khin Khin Htun at the hospital. “We were not able to do that before. We are really happy.”

Meanwhile, Mg Myat Thu’s cardiac condition was treated by specialists in Mandalay and he was to return to his home and his awaiting family soon.