IT is appalling that thousands of Nigerian under-5 children die annually from pneumonia, a preventable and curable disease. The situation, which is unacceptable, has also underscored the need to pay urgent attention to child health. The latest statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health, released during this year’s World Pneumonia Day, show that pneumonia kills between 142,000 and 160,000 under-5 children in Nigeria every year.
It is equally pathetic that the high mortality and morbidity of the disease in Nigeria is due to low immunisation in hard-to-reach areas, among other reasons. Malnutrition and rising urbanisation can also fuel the spread of the disease. And children with low immunity are more likely to die from the disease. The disease affects mostly infants, children and people above 65 years.
According to Stop Pneumonia Initiative, the disease was responsible for the death of 2.5 million people, including 672,000 children in 2019. It appears that efforts to stem the pneumonia scourge have not yielded much result. In 2018, about 162,000 children under the age of five reportedly died from the disease in Nigeria. According to the Save the Children group, about 802,000 children under the age of five died from pneumonia in 2018 and the five most endemic countries included Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pneumonia ac- counts for 15 per cent of all deaths of children under-5 years old. The dis- ease killed not less than 808,694 children in 2017. Pneumonia, according to medical experts, can be caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi.
The symptoms of the disease include cough, fever, sweating and shaking chills, shortness of breath and rapid, shallow breathing. Others are sharp chest pain, loss of appetite, low energy and fatigue. Despite deaths from the disease, the good news is that it can be prevented by immunisation, adequate nutrition, as well as addressing environmental factors. Government should pay serious attention to preventing the disease.
As a result of the increasing deaths from pneumonia, we urge the health authorities to vigorously sensitise the public about the disease and the need to have access to affordable pneumonia vaccine. It is depressing that some health facilities, especially in the rural areas do not have pediatricians.
The dearth of these medical experts may be responsible for the rising deaths from pneumonia. It is sad that more than 75 per cent of deaths of children from pneumonia are due to preventable and treatable conditions. We also decry the reported lack of vaccines, affordable antibiotics and routine oxygen treatment in the management of the disease.
Unfortunately, the majority of these deaths occur at home, among the poor, rural, and semi-urban populations where mothers and caregivers have limited access to quality life-saving interventions against diseases that kill children.
Therefore, those in charge of pneumonia control must ensure that workable measures are put in place to halt the rising deaths from the disease. As one of the highest child-killer diseases, we call onp7 the federal, state and local governments to work in concert to curb the pneumonia scourge. It is not good that we lose thou- sands of Nigerian children annually because of the disease.
The nation’s health authorities should work with development partners, the private sector and civil society organisations to ensure that the disease is adequately controlled. Pneumonia control is central to achieving Universal Health Coverage and meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria. Nigeria cannot achieve its newborn and child health goals without curbing frightening pneumonia deaths. The sensitisation of members of the public on immunisation, oral antibiotics, reduction of household air pollution, can be of immense help to check pneumonia deaths.
With the nation’s increasing birth rate and population, Nigeria will not achieve sustainable development without holistically addressing child health concerns, including pneumonia, malnutrition, cholera, measles and other child killer diseases. We believe that adequate funding of the health sector will largely boost Nigeria’s chances of overcoming worrisome pneumonia deaths. Above all, maternal and child health issues must be prioritised.