What do we really know about Pneumonia?

What do we really know about Pneumonia?

By Vina Carandang

I have been trying to recall the earliest time when I first heard of pneumonia or “pulmonya” as we call it here in the Philippines. And I realized I could have been 4 or 5 years old or even much younger when my mom or my grandmother would tell us to wipe the perspiration off our backs, keep it dry or else we might catch pneumonia. We have heard it a million times over after that: during our teen years when the old folks would prevent us from wearing backless tops lest we’d have pneumonia; people telling people to cover their babies and protect the elderly; and even in a song.

But what do we really know about pneumonia? Do we really get it by exposing our backs to the cold breeze or from kissing a guy as the song says? Do we even realize that we never really give it that much thought? How many people, outside of the medical and/or health field, actually know that pneumonia is the number one killer of children below five years old in the world? I bet not many!

It was back in September, 2011 when I began to know pneumonia a little more. I was having a chat with Dr. Lulu Bravo (pictured above), a well-respected pediatrician and a very passionate advocate for disease prevention. She mentioned that she was looking for someone to write a song for a dance competition among public health workers she was going to launch in connection with the World Pneumonia Day celebration. I happen to know Mr. Jungee Marcelo, a multi-awarded song/jingle writer/composer, and I volunteered to introduce them. I had no plans of getting involved beyond that. But everyone who knows Dr. Bravo would agree with me that her passion sucks you in… and deep. To cut the story short, I ended up being involved in the project more than I planned to. It was an enlightening experience. It was then that I realized the irony of pneumonia: that it can be fatal, widespread, and dangerous – yet so simple to prevent. The song “Sapul sa Pulmonya,” embodied the simple message of “Prevent, Protect and Treat,” through breastfeeding, proper nutrition, avoidance of indoor pollution, vaccines and antibiotics.

Honorable Eric Tayag, MD, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, delivering his Keynote Message during the event.

Armed with new information about pneumonia, I began telling people about it: how it could be mistaken for a simple cough, how deadly it is and telling the elder people to get vaccines for it.   Yet still, I don’t know much. I question why my mom still gets pneumonia even when she’d been vaccinated against it. Why is it still the number one killer of children when a vaccine to prevent it exists? Why, why, and more whys and some how’s and what’s, as well.

Needless to say, I have so much to learn not only about pneumonia, but about vaccines as well, and I vowed to learn more. So I try to read online literature, ask questions, attend lectures when there is opportunity for it.

And a great opportunity came last August 28-29, 2012 through the “Vaccinology Course: Focus on Pneumococcal Disease and Prevention.” It was a two-day course organized by the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, the Department of Health and the Vaccine Study Group of the National Institutes for Health as part of the activities for the World Pneumonia Day celebrations.  Here, lectures were presented on the value of vaccines, how it works, the many types of pneumococcal diseases and vaccines. It was an enlightening two days, I must say.

Did you know that there are 93 serotypes (which, in simple terms for us lay people, is the variations or versions of bacteria or viruses) of the bacteria that cause pneumonia? Well there are, and we only have vaccines for some of them. But this would be a very long discussion, so let me tell you about it and the other lectures presented in the next blog. Until then, stay safe and go ask your health provider about vaccines.

Vina Carandang is a lawyer who is actively engaged in the promotion of “Vaccination for Life” on behalf of the Immunization Partners in Asia Pacific (IPAP).