World Pneumonia Day 2017: Democratic Republic of the Congo

World Pneumonia Day 2017: Democratic Republic of the Congo

This story is a part of the World Pneumonia Day (WPD) 2017 Global Activities Round-Up Series. Advocates, scientists and governments in countries around the world seized the opportunity to push for progress in the fight against pneumonia. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, actors from across government ministries, academia and civil society came together for the first time to discuss the urgency of childhood pneumonia and how to advance the fight against the disease together.

Published on March 22, 2018

Submitted by the National Program for the Fight Against Acute Respiratory Infections (PNIRA, DRC)

Edited by the Stop Pneumonia team, IVAC

Dr. Nyembwe and his family attend the celebration of the first World Pneumonia Day in Democratic Republic of the Congo. © 2009 Michel Nyembwe, Courtesy of Photoshare

The  9th Annual World Pneumonia Day in the DRC – launching a multi-sectoral movement

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in young children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country with the 4th highest mortality rate worldwide for children under 5 years of age. Accounting for 18% of all deaths in young children, pneumonia’s heavy burden in the DRC is fueled by indoor air pollution, inadequate timely treatment for children, and insufficient preventative measures against pneumonia.

This broad set of contributing factors cannot be addressed by a single agency or with a single approach, which is why the National Program for the Fight Against Acute Respiratory Infections (PNIRA) marked the 9th annual World Pneumonia Day with the first ever Multi-Sectoral Forum on pneumonia. The day-long event engaged several ministries and an array of partners, advocates, and scientists to discuss the state of childhood pneumonia, its many causes and opportunities for progress. Presentations of data and progress around air quality, treatment and care-seeking for pneumonia drove discussions and helped participants align around mainly two high-impact interventions requiring cross-sectoral collaboration.

Improving care-seeking for pneumonia in DRC would make a significant impact on childhood pneumonia. Nationally, only 40% of children with pneumonia are taken to a healthcare provider for treatment, a statistic which likely masks significant variation in different parts of the country. Researchers from the University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN) presented data showing that nearly 7 out of 10 children between 1 and 5 years of age had coughs or colds at the time they were screened for pneumonia symptoms when visited in their homes as part of UNIKIN’s pilot Active Case Screening for pneumonia study. Nearly 1 in 5 children screened had suspected pneumonia, highlighting the urgent need to sensitize community health-workers, leaders and caretakers themselves about the signs and symptoms of pneumonia, and to ensure appropriate treatment is easily available.

Another major driver of pneumonia in DRC – and one which will require the collaboration of a wide array of ministries and partners – is air quality. More than 60 million people in the DRC are affected by indoor air pollution, exposure to which more than doubles the risk of acute respiratory infections in young children. Noting that the economic toll of pollution in the DRC has been estimated at more than US$5 billion per year, Mr. Elie Kabunda of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development called for the establishment of a technical collaboration framework between ministries and with private sector. Representatives of the Ministry of Urban Planning and Habitat and Ministry of Public Health echoed this call, highlighting air quality as a significant opportunity for mutually beneficial collaboration.

While the DRC remains high on the list of countries carrying a tremendous burden of childhood pneumonia, the dedication of advocates – both within and outside of the government – has helped to halve the under-five mortality and the prevalence of pneumonia among young children in the last 15 years. The marking of WPD2017 with the Multi-sectoral Forum on Pneumonia laid the groundwork for a national, multi-sectoral platform now in development that will help guide the nation’s response to childhood pneumonia.  Moreover, the engagement of partners and colleagues from sectors outside of the traditional child health sphere represents an influx of passionate new advocates for childhood pneumonia whose efforts will be critical to sustaining momentum and redoubling the gains already made.

Find out more about the state of childhood pneumonia and diarrhea the DRC in IVAC’s 2017 Pneumonia & Diarrhea Progress Report here.

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