12 Nov Save the Children Study in Lancet Offers New Hope on Battling Pneumonia
Pakistan’s “Lady Health Workers” Successfully Treat Severe Pneumonia at Home
In research published in The Lancet on November 11, 2011, children treated at home for severe pneumonia by Pakistan’s “Lady Health Workers” (LHW) were more likely to recover than children referred to health facilities, Save the Children found in a USAID-funded, WHO-coordinated study.
“Pneumonia is highly treatable with inexpensive antibiotics, yet it remains the world’s number-one killer of children,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. “Today’s results point to an extremely promising and practical way to reduce child deaths from severe pneumonia in the hardest hit communities. Training and supporting more frontline health workers is at the heart of the solution.”
The Lancet study addresses a significant barrier to effective treatment for millions of poor families around the world — the difficulty in accessing quality health services. In poor and isolated communities where pneumonia takes its biggest toll, major challenges include distance to a health facility, lack of transportation and costs.
Amidst a global health workforce crisis, Pakistan is one of a growing number of low-income countries to deploy community health workers to improve child and maternal health. In Pakistan, Lady Health Workers receive several months training, ongoing supervision and basic supplies and attend to about 150-200 families at home monthly.
What Happens When Families Can’t Access a Health Facility?
Previous studies have shown that community health workers can successfully treat children with non-severe pneumonia at home and substantially reduce mortality rates. However, current World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines do not allow for in-home treatment when pneumonia is defined as severe (when a child’s chest draws in instead of expanding during inhalation). Instead, community health workers are to administer the first dose of antibiotic and then refer a child to a facility.
Around the world, many families never make it to a health facility. Until today’s publication, no rigorous randomized study had shown whether community health workers could safely and effectively treat cases of severe pneumonia at home.
“Our study aimed to show that children can recover just as well from severe pneumonia when treated at home as when referred to a health facility. In fact, we found that frontline health workers treating children at home can be even more effective,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Salim Sadruddin of Save the Children.
The full research paper can be accessed at The Lancet.