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World Pneumonia Day: A child health scourge

black and white X-ray Image of a human chest for a medical diagnosis pneumoniaToday marked World Pneumonia Day, which came with a chilling reminder from UNICEF: every day, the disease kills a child every 39 seconds.

“Every day, nearly 2,200 children under the age of five die from pneumonia, a curable and mostly preventable disease,” commented UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. 800,000 children lose their lives to the disease every year. “Strong global commitment and increased investments are critical to the fight against this disease. Only through cost-effective protective, preventative and treatment interventions delivered to where children are will we be able to truly save millions of lives.” 

“This is a forgotten global epidemic that demands an urgent international response,” Save the Children chief executive Kevin Watkins concurred. “Millions of children are dying for want of vaccines, affordable antibiotics, and routine oxygen treatment. The pneumonia crisis is a symptom of neglect and indefensible inequalities in access to healthcare.”

A Lancet study explains clearly why the deaths of children due to pneumonia does not need to be the case. “Almost all pneumonia deaths could be prevented through vaccination or early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics costing less than US$0.50. Yet childhood pneumonia deaths are falling far more slowly than other major killers. On current trends, there will be 735,000 pneumonia deaths in 2030 — the target date for achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 target 3.2 of “ending preventable child deaths”.” 

India feels the toll of pneumonia acutely, accounting for seventy percent of the global burden in 2016. Together with diarrhoea, pneumonia is responsible for two lakh child deaths every year in India. By 2030, the condition is anticipated to kill 1.7 million of the country’s children.

In 2018, Health Issues India reported that a child lost their life every two minutes to pneumonia. In 2015, 178,717 lives were lost to the disease despite pneumonia antibiotics being available for as little as Rs 26. India introduced the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in 2017 into the Universal Immunisation Programme, with then-Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda commenting “no child should die in the country from vaccine-preventable Diseases.”

For India, pneumonia is the second-leading cause of death in the country among children, behind acute preterm birth complications according to research published earlier in the year by The Lancet. The disease accounts for 15.9 percent of child deaths in the country. World Pneumonia Day offers an insight into this crisis and highlights the need to put an end to it using the tools at the country’s disposal so that no child needlessly loses their life to a disease which is entirely preventable and treatable.

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