The Disease- Pneumonia
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs.
It causes cough and fever and can make breathing difficult.
Severe pneumonia can be deadly.
Who is most at risk?
In most developing countries, children under 5 and especially under 2 years of age are at risk.
The elderly are also at risk.
Tobacco smoke and other indoor air pollution can also increase chances of being more susceptible to pneumonia.
Some children and adults are at greater risk because they have other illnesses, such as AIDS. People with AIDS stand a much greater chance of dying from pneumonia.
Children who are poorly nourished can also have weakened immune systems, putting them at higher risk.
What causes pneumonia?
Many organisms can cause pneumonia.
Globally, bacteria such as Hib and pneumococcus are estimated to cause more than 50% of pneumonia deaths in children under 5 years of age.
Viruses and fungi can also cause pneumonia infections.
Pneumonia is a problem with solutions
More than ever before, we now know how to protect and prevent children from catching pneumonia, and how to treat those suffering with this illness.
Every 15 seconds, pneumonia kills another child. That’s 5,500 child deaths every day, and a staggering 2 million child deaths every year from a preventable, treatable disease.
Now is the time to put knowledge into action to deliver these solutions to all children around the world.
We can protect from pneumonia
Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life is an important and easy way to help protect children from pneumonia and many other diseases.
Other strategies, like good nutrition for older children, hand-washing, and reducing indoor air pollution from cook stoves and tobacco smoke, can also help protect children from pneumonia.
Preventing pneumonia before it occurs is key
Vaccines are a safe and effective tool for preventing pneumonia before it occurs.
Vaccines against two of the main causes of life-threatening pneumonia – pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae b) – are used throughout the developed world.
However, millions of children in developing countries still lack access to them.
Measles and pertussis (ie. whooping cough) vaccines can prevent infections that can lead to pneumonia as a complication.
Children should have access to effective and affordable treatment
The treatment for most types of serious pneumonia is usually antibiotics, which typically cost less than one dollar per dose.
Tragically, only an estimated 1 of every 5 children with pneumonia receives antibiotics.
Effective “case management” strategies can help to ensure that children receive the right treatment for pneumonia quickly, even in the poorest communities.
Preventing pneumonia before it occurs is key
Pneumococcal and Hib vaccines
- Vaccines are a safe and effective tool for preventing pneumonia before children get sick.
- Hib and pneumococcal bacteria are estimated to cause more than 50% of life-threatening pneumonia in children under five.
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are used throughout most of the developed world to protect children from pneumococcal pneumonia. Yet most children in developing countries don’t yet have access to this vaccine.
- Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) is another common cause of serious pneumonia. Used routinely for nearly 20 years in developed countries, Hib vaccine is being used today in more countries than ever before to prevent pneumonia cases caused by this deadly bacterium.
- Within two years, 98% of children in low-income countries could have access to Hib vaccine in their country’s routine immunization program.Yet, the percent of children actually receiving vaccine is still low in many places, particularly hard-to-reach rural areas.
- Through the focused efforts of countries, partners, suppliers and donors, children in the poorest countries will soon have access to the newest generation of pneumococcal vaccines.
- Urgent action is needed to deliver life-saving Hib and pneumococcal vaccines to all children. Every year of delay is hundreds of thousands of lives.
Measles and pertussis vaccines
- Some diseases, like measles and pertussis (whooping cough), can lead to pneumonia as a complication.
- Safe and effective vaccines against measles and pertussis are used throughout most of the world.
- Improving immunization coverage within developing countries should be an imperative to ensure that each and every child receives these vaccines.
- HIV is a disease that can weaken children’s immune systems, making it more likely for them to develop diseases like pneumonia.
- Other diseases such as malaria and influenza can also increase a child’s risk of developing pneumonia.
- We can prevent HIV from being passed from mother to child with appropriate medications and counseling.
- Cotrimoxazole is a medication that can help prevent pneumonia in people with HIV.
- All HIV-positive children, as well as children born to mothers with HIV, should receive cotrimoxazole.
- Zinc is an important micronutrient that has been found to prevent child pneumonia and reduce the risk of death from pneumonia.
- Undernourished children may need inexpensive zinc supplements to make up for lack of zinc in their diets.
- Zinc supplementation can reduce that rate of pneumonia in children by 14 to 25%.
Protecting children from pneumonia is possibleExclusive breastfeeding
- Breast milk is an excellent source of nutrition for babies.
- Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life is one of the best ways to protect children from pneumonia and many other diseases.
- Exclusive breastfeeding can reduce the rate of pneumonia among young infants by 15 to 23%.
- It is critically important that all children receive good nutrition.
- Undernourished children are at higher risk for illness and death. In fact, lack of proper nutrition may contribute to more than 1 million deaths from pneumonia yearly.
- Malnutrition weakens children’s immune systems.It also weakens their muscles, making it more difficult to cough and breathe if they become sick with pneumonia..
Reduce low birth weight
- Babies born with a low birth weight are at risk for pneumonia, other health problems and even death.
- Low birth weight is related to the health and nutritional status of mothers.
- Improving prenatal care for expecting mothers can help to reduce the number of babies born with a low birth weight. Babies born at low birth weight need appropriate care to reduce their risk of illness or death.
Reduce indoor air pollution
- Indoor air pollution may be caused by many different sources, including cigarette smoking and the burning of biofuels for cooking and home heating.
- Reducing indoor air pollution can help to protect children from pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
- Hand washing can help to reduce the spread of germs and disease.
- This is a simple and inexpensive way to help protect children from pneumonia.
Treatment for pneumonia works, and it is affordableCase management
- Case management involves correctly diagnosing and treating pneumonia.
- It is a critical part of efforts to reduce pneumonia deaths.
- Effective case management requires trained and skilled health workers; strong referral and communication systems; and health facilities equipped with antibiotics, oxygen and guidelines for pneumonia management.
- Many families, particularly those living in poor and rural communities, lack access to basic medical care for their children.
- Community health workers can save children’s lives by diagnosing and treating pneumonia, and referring to a health facility if needed.
Techniques for diagnosis
- In developed countries, health workers use tools, like chest x-rays and lab tests, to diagnose pneumonia.
- In developing countries, health workers often lack these tools, and must instead rely on symptoms and signs to make a diagnosis.
- By counting a child’s breaths during 1 minute, and checking for other important pneumonia symptoms, health workers can make a diagnosis of pneumonia so that children can receive appropriate treatment quickly.
- The treatment for pneumonia is a prompt, full course of antibiotics.
- Antibiotics are very inexpensive, costing less than a dollar per dose.
- Tragically, only an estimated 1 of every 5 children with signs of pneumonia receives life-saving antibiotics.
- If pneumonia worsens and lungs fill with puss, a child may have to undergo painful and risky surgery to survive.
- Children who are very sick with pneumonia often have difficulty breathing in the oxygen their bodies need. A low level of oxygen is a common and potentially deadly complication of pneumonia.
- With existing technology, health workers can place a simple, safe device on a child’s finger to measure their oxygen levels.
- Many hospitals in developing countries are not equipped with the tools needed to check oxygen levels in sick children, and oxygen is often not available.
- There are now machines that purify regular air into oxygen. These can then be used to treat patients with low oxygen levels, and are cheaper in the long run than other sources of oxygen.
- Access to these simple, cost-effective tools in hospitals and health centres in developing countries can reduce the rate of pneumonia deaths by as much as 35%.