Pneumonia:still the top killer of children

Yesterday(November 12) the world marked World Pneumonia day with sobering statistics that 100 children die everyday in Kenya as a result of this preventable disease.

On an average day, one in 12 children in Kenya suffers from pneumonia, according to data available from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Pneumonia kills 30,000 children each year, and many more are left with permanent disabilities. despite the launch of a new vaccine for the top killer of children launched in the country last year.

Diagnosis still a big problem in fighting pneumonia:Sarah’s story


When Sarah Walegwa’s daughter fell ill, she immediately took her to a private clinic. After examination, she was told that her baby, Jane Wakesho, was suffering from asthma.

“She seemed like she had flu or a normal cold and then she started coughing,” says Sarah.

After treating her for sometime without success, the doctor at the private clinic did more tests. This time the doctor said that he suspected the baby was suffering from malaria.

“By this time, she had started wheezing and had slight difficulty in breathing,” says Sarah, 26, a first time mother. But after three months with no improvements, a friend suggested to Sarah that she should take her daughter to a government hospital.

That’s when she took Jane to Wesu District hospital in Taita Taveta. After tests, the doctors confirmed that she had severe pneumonia. “By then I had very little knowledge about pneumonia,” says Sarah.

The disease had worsened so much that in October, six months later, two-year-old Jane succumbed to the disease.

“I will never forget that day. She was very jovial; we played a lot together but I could see her eyes were turning blueish – a sign of lack of enough oxygen in her lungs. I didn’t know that at the time. Because she was on drugs I thought she was getting better, but the pneumonia was just suppressed – worsening slowly and the air sacs in her lungs were filling up with water instead of air… that’s when she succumbed,” says Sarah.

The severity of pneumonia in Kenya

But Sarah is not alone. On an average day, one in 12 children in Kenya suffers from pneumonia, according to data available from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The disease kills 30,000 children each year which means at least 100 children die every day as a result of pneumonia, and many more are left with permanent disabilities.

Director of Public Health and Sanitation Dr Shanaaz Sharif says that more than 30,000 children under five will never see their fifth birthday as a result of pneumonia.

The disease is more severe among children below the age of two. The number is higher than in Uganda where pneumonia kills at least 27,000 children every year.

While launching a new vaccine for pneumonia last year, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki said that one in every five deaths among children in Kenya is as a result of the disease.

“Indeed, pneumonia is the second largest killer of children below five years after malaria,” Kibaki said.

But according to a joint report by Unicef and WHO titled ‘Pneumonia: The forgotten killer of children,’ the disease causes almost one in five under-five deaths worldwide: more than two million children each year.

It kills more children than any other disease – more than Aids, malaria and measles combined. The report further says that about 150 million pneumonia cases occur every year among children under five in developing countries – making it the biggest challenge in children healthcare.

Diagnosis nightmare leading to deaths

Only about one in five caregivers knows the danger signs of pneumonia, the report says. Only about half of children sick with pneumonia receive the appropriate medical care, the report adds.

Like is Sarah’s case mots cases of pneumonia re confused with asthma and sometimes malaria which means that many children are treated for the wrong disease.

Facts about pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection, according to an online journal, http://www.medlineplus.gov

Infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria can make children very sick. It causes blood infections, pneumonia, and meningitis, mostly in young children.

Pneumococcal bacteria are spread from person to person through close contact. Pneumococcal infections may be hard to treat because some strains of the bacteria have become resistant to the drugs that are used to treat them. This makes prevention of pneumococcal infections through vaccination even more important. Three common causes of pneumonia are bacteria, viruses and fungi.

According to the site, one can also get pneumonia by accidentally inhaling a liquid or chemical.

Most at risk are people older than 65 years, younger than two years, or having other health problems.

According to the Unicef/WHO report, severe pneumonia is caused by a bacterial pathogen, streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenza, which attack a child’s lungs leading to difficulty in breathing, cough, fever, chills, headaches, loss of appetite and wheezing.

Prevention of pneumonia

The best preventive measures, according to medlineplus.gov are:

  1. Wash your hands often, especially after:
  • Blowing your nose
  • Going to the bathroom
  • After changing Diapers
  • Also wash your hands before eating or preparing foods.

2. Don’t smoke. Tobacco damages your lung’s ability to ward off infection.

3.Vaccines may help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people with diabetes, asthma.

About Kenya Reporter

The other side of the news.

Posted on November 13, 2011, in General News and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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