09 Nov India and Beyond
by Dr. Naveen Thacker, MD
Pneumonia kills a child in India every 85 seconds. After complications due to premature birth, it is the single largest cause of death for Indian children under five. Immunization against diseases such as Hib, pneumococcal disease, measles, and whooping cough helps to reduce pneumonia deaths. India is planning to introduce Hib vaccine in select states this December, with hopes to scale up in the near future. And immunization is not the only way to prevent pneumonia. Breastfeeding, improved nutrition, the reduction of indoor air pollution and antibiotics are important interventions, too.
A parent will spend any amount of money to keep a sick child alive and many families – in rich and poor countries alike – are living in poverty as a result of a sickness in the family. But by preventing disease in the first place, immunization often removes the need for hospitalisation or expensive medical treatment. And 80% of the world’s children now have access to immunization as part of a routine program provided by governments with the support of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and its many donors and partners.
We now have a vaccine against pneumococcal disease, a major cause of pneumonia, which could save seven million children’s lives by 2030. Innovative work by GAVI has helped accelerate the availability of this vaccine to developing countries by between 10 and 15 years, ensuring that children in the poorest countries can now benefit from the protection it provides at the same time as children in richer nations.
98.5% of pneumonia deaths occur in less developed countries, where distance, poverty and many other factors can mean medical care is hard to reach. India alone accounts for 23.5% of all childhood pneumonia deaths, where approximately 370,000 children under 5 die from pneumonia every year.
Since December 2010, when Nicaragua became the first GAVI-eligible country to introduce it, the pneumococcal vaccine is now being used in 15 developing countries. The last 11 months has seen an extraordinary uptake of the vaccine, which will change the paradigm in terms of child survival. And on 12 November this year – World Pneumonia Day – Malawi will become the 16th GAVI-supported country to introduce the vaccine.
As we observe the third annual World Pneumonia Day on Saturday, November 12, we should celebrate the fact that the pneumococcal vaccine is already starting to reach children in the countries that need it most, and call for introduction of a vaccine that could make a difference in the lives of many Indian children. Already those that can afford are receiving it – shouldn’t all children?
This vaccine will do more than prevent pneumonia, because pneumococcal disease also causes pneumococcal meningitis. This nasty condition kills one in ten infected children and leaves roughly one quarter of children who survive it with lifelong disabilities including deafness, seizures, mental retardation, and motor impairment.
No child should die of a disease we can prevent. Let’s all mark World Pneumonia Day this year by getting the word out and asking our leaders to help ensure children have the same treatment and vaccines that are available to others.
Dr. Naveen Thacker, MD FIAP, is a past President of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and Standing Committee Member of the International Pediatric Association