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Children: Physicians Seek Intensified Effort Against Pneumonia Deaths

About 177,000 children under the age of five die of pneumonia in Nigeria annually

Angela Onwuzoo

Medical practitioners have expressed concern at the rate which Nigerian children under the age of five die of pneumonia infections, blaming the needless deaths on government’s failure to accord the child killer disease a priority.

They said pneumonia is the second highest killer of children in Nigeria – after malaria, as it accounts for 17 per cent of total deaths of children in the country.

Hence, they called on government to include Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine in the routine National Programme on Immunisation (NPI) to prevent these avoidable deaths.

The World Health Organisation( WHO) in its 2013 report, says Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide.

Speaking at a forum in Lagos recently, Former President, Paediatric Association of Nigeria (PAN), Dr. Dorothy Esangbedo, pointed out that about 177,000 children under the age of five die of pneumonia in Nigeria annually.

According to her, the implication is that within an hour, 20 children across Nigeria will die from pneumonia, lamenting that this number is the highest in Africa and second highest in the world.

On factors responsible for the infection, Esangbedo said pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms

She explained: “ The most common causes of the fatal pneumonia are pneumococcus and Haemophilus influenza type b (HIB). These bacteria are responsible for up to half of childhood pneumonia deaths. Pneumonia causes needless suffering and stress. Each year, there are more than 150 million episodes of pneumonia in young children in developing countries, and more than 11 million children need hospitalization for pneumonia. There are an estimated 56 million episodes of lung infections among Nigerian children every year. Although not all episodes will lead to death, these infections nevertheless cause suffering and require treatment. Pneumonia is an economic burden for families and communities, contributing to the cycle of poverty.”

Esangbedo , therefore, called on the Federal Government to make pneumonia vaccines to become part of the National Programme on Immunisation (NPI) vaccines, adding that such measures would save many lives in the country in view of the severe burden of pneumonia on the economy of individuals.

Rolling out others ways children could be further protected against the infection, she said: “We know how to protect and prevent children from catching pneumonia, and how to treat those suffering from this illness. We can protect children through exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life and this is an important and easy way to help protect children from pneumonia and many other diseases. Worldwide, less than 40 per cent of babies receive exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life and this figure is less than 30 percent in Nigeria. Other strategies include good nutrition (children and pregnant women), hand-washing, and reduced indoor air pollution.”

Meanwhile, Executive Director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Ado Muhammad, has said that government alone could no longer fund immunization for millions of children who need the life-saving vaccines.

Speaking during the just concluded World Immunisation Week, Ado said it was getting more expensive to fully immunize a child in Nigeria as result of new vaccines introduced including that for pneumococcal diseases, cervical cancer, rotavirus, and an inactivated form for polio vaccine.

Former President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Osahon Enabulele, on his part also maintained that Pneumococcal vaccine will protect against severe infection of a bacteria called pneumonia when given to children.

He said: “We want to appeal for the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine into the routine immunisation schedule, as a primary prevention of the disease. Vaccination against pneumonia infections has been proven to be highly effective globally.”

Enabulele however revealed that exposure to smoke from cigarettes and the environment could lead to pneumonia infections and therefore, called for the enforcement of the ban on smoking in public places as a step towards protecting innocent children and non-smokers against the dangers of second hand/passive smoking.

An another public health physician, Dr. Nkechi Olalere, identified ignorance, environmental pollution and poor vaccination rates as reasons why Nigeria records one of the highest deaths from this infection.

Olalere nevertheless stated that handwashing can reduce the risk of contracting respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.

According to the American Centre for Disease Control, bacterial pneumonia can attack anyone, at any age. It stated that bacterial pneumonia could occur on its own or develop after you’ve had a cold or the flu. People at greatest risk for bacterial pneumonia include people recovering from surgery, people with respiratory diseases or viral infections and people who have weakened immune systems.

For Dr. Femi Amao of the Shalom Medical Centre, Ibadan, there is need for increased awareness of the causes and prevention of pneumonia among children under five years of age.

He pointed out that many mothers are misguided in their belief that wrapping up their children in thick and warm clothing will prevent pneumonia.

According to him, mothers should be sensitised to the fact that pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, which is caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites.

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