Sounding the Alarm

Sounding the Alarm

By Ojong Merilyne Nchare and Mokwe Welisane Nkeng

Growing up as children in Africa, my siblings and I watched our ailing grandmother hold on to life. When she died, we children buried her, because as she used to say: that is the way things are, children bury their parents. Now as an adult, it is sad to realize that the reverse situation can also happen; sometimes parents must bury their children. Every 20 seconds, a mother has to come face to face with the reality of losing and burying a child lost to pneumonia.

We at FISS-MST/SIDA, an organization in Cameroon, understand the importance and need for effective communication in the fight against pneumonia. It is for this reason that we focus our actions for the November 12, 2012 World Pneumonia Day around creating awareness. FISS-MST/SIDA’s work in preparation for the World Pneumonia Day will be to sensitize the public and advocate for change.

Our sensitization campaign involves sending SMS to targeted populations in Cameroon. These targeted populations include adults living in underprivileged neighborhoods whose children are more likely to be exposed to pneumonia, and top ranking personalities in government and other areas who have the capacity to influence national policies on pneumonia. Our sensitization campaign will also extend to the mass media. We will use popular television shows and community radios to disseminate information on the causes, effects, prevention, and treatment of pneumonia. As we are mindful of the undeniable potential of social media, Facebook and Twitter pages have also been created to spread word about pneumonia.

In an attempt to motivate action from the press, health and education sectors, a series of awards will be publicized, notably an award for the best newspaper article, one for the best pneumonia vaccination center, and another for the best essay from primary school pupils respectively.

The advocacy dimension of FISS-MST/SIDA’s communication entails working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to create better health strategies to curb pneumonia and make treatment more accessible, especially at the local levels. It also involves getting either a government official or celebrity to carry pneumonia messages because we believe that this will not only give credibility to the messages being transmitted, but will also draw the interest of the general population.

According to WHO, pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide, killing an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five years every year. With these figures, it is hard to understand how pneumonia finds itself in the category of forgotten diseases, how it is still a silent killer disease, when its casualties are so loud.

The pneumonia statistics are even more alarming when one considers the relationship between HIV and pneumonia. Children with HIV have a higher risk of contracting and dying from pneumonia than children who are HIV negative. Additionally, treatment for pneumonia is more complicated. Pneumonia’s toll makes one less dreamy about the development of the African continent, although more and more efforts are have been made in recent years to make a legacy of prosperity a reality for everyone. Think of the thousands we lose each year to pneumonia that  could have been  been doctors, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and architects. If pneumonia continues to take away as many young lives as it does now, future generations may not be able to reap the fruits of the labor being sowed today.

Thankfully, there is hope. A new pneumonia vaccine was recently sent out in some countries in Africa (Kenya, Sierra Leone, Congo – Brazzaville, Cameroon, Benin, RCA, Gambia, Mali, Rwanda, Ghana…) and is reported to have the potential to save more than half a million lives per year. The vaccine protects children against pneumococcal disease, which is one of the leading causes of pneumonia.

We must sound the alarm; tell friends and family of the good news. Pneumonia can be prevented and treated. We can fight pneumonia if we commit to one effort, one message at a time.


Ojong Merilyne Nchare and Mokwe Welisane Nkeng represent Front for Inter-School Awareness on STD / AIDS (FISS-MST/SIDA)