Treating pneumonia not only takes a heavy emotional toll on the family, but it also can cause serious financial difficulties for families and communities, contributing to the cycle of poverty. The costs of illness may include the medical bills, non-medical direct costs (e.g., transportation to a health facility), and the loss of work days and income for caregivers. Pneumonia not only impacts the individual child, but also siblings who may no longer be able to attend school because their parents are tending to a sick child or scarce financial resources are diverted from school fees to pay for medical costs.
That’s why it’s critical to promote a set of health practices—no one intervention is enough—to avoid pneumonia in the first place, especially for children without reliable access to health care and treatment. Protection with exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life, adequate nutrition, and vitamin A supplementation has been far-reaching with widespread impact.
Behavior change and education, nevertheless, have proven difficult in high-burden communities. And the reality is these protective measures alone may be insufficient to addressing some of the most severe disease. Learn more about how to Prevent pneumonia.
Exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life is a key component of strengthening an infant’s immune system. Infants who are exclusively breastfed have a lower risk of infection and severe disease than those who lack this important source of antibodies from the mother. Research has shown that it can lead to a 23% reduction in pneumonia incidence. Infants between the ages of 0-5 months who aren’t breastfed at all face enormous risk of dying from pneumonia; they’re 15 times more likely to die from this respiratory illness than infants who are exclusively breastfed.
Adequate nutrition helps to ensure a well-functioning immune system to protect children from pneumonia, as well as other illnesses. Children who are undernourished face a higher risk of disease, increased duration of illness, and greater chance of death from disease. Without access to enough macronutrients like protein, fats, and carbohydrates, and micronutrients like zinc and vitamin A, children are more susceptible to pneumonia and are not strong enough to fight off the disease. In fact, children who are well-nourished have a lower risk of losing their lives to pneumonia.