Fight pneumonia, save a child

November 12, 2014 |

Today is the World Pneumonia Day, a day set aside by the international bodies to draw global attention to the need to fight this deadly but preventable disease.

Experts describe pneumonia as a bacterial or viral infection of the air sacs in the lungs, the latter of which is more common in children.

Child killer

At a seminar presided over by experts from the Paediatrics Association of Nigeria, under the aegis of Sanofi, a pharmaceutical firm that deals in the manufacture of drugs and vaccines for the treatment of pneumonia and other diseases, experts note that pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide.

Quoting the World Health Organisation statistics, Consultant Paediatrician/pulmonologist at the University College Hospital Ibadan, Dr. Adegoke Falade, says in 2012 alone, pneumonia killed an estimated 1.1 million children under the age of five – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It accounts for 18 per cent of all deaths of children under five years old globally, with 99 per cent of these deaths happening in developing countries such as ours.

Indeed, the WHO states that annually, Nigeria witnesses about 143,000 under-five deaths due to pneumonia. That translates into average of 392 under-five deaths daily!

How it happens

Experts say pneumonia can develop when a person breathes in small droplets that contain pneumonia-causing organisms; or when bacteria or viruses that are normally present in the mouth, nose and throat, enter the lungs.

The lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli, which fill with air when a healthy person breathes. “However, when an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake,” experts say.

What parents should know

Falade says anyone can develop pneumonia, but some groups are at greater risk. “These are babies and toddlers, particularly those borprematurely, people who have had a recent viral infection, smokers, people with chronic lung conditions, those with suppressed immune systems, alcoholics and those who have had strokes.”

Assistant Professor of Paediatrics with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Dr. Ekanem Ekure, says in order to effectively curb pneumonia among babies and children, mothers should be aware of the symptoms.

She explains, “Parents should note the presence of either fast breathing or lower chest wall in-drawing, whereby the chest moves in or retracts during inhalation, whereas in a healthy person, the chest expands during inhalation.

“Wheezing is more common in viral pneumonia infections, and very severely ill infants may be unable to feed or drink and may also experience unconsciousness, hypothermia and convulsions.”

In general, anybody who has pneumonia will show symptoms of high fever, chills, shortness of breath, increased breathing rate, a worsening cough that may produce discoloured or bloody sputum, and sharp chest pains caused by inflammation of the membrane that lines the lungs.

Ekure says in children under the age of five, symptoms may be less specific and they may not show clear signs of a chest infection.

“Commonly, they will have a high fever, appear very unwell, and become lethargic. They may also have noisy or rattly breathing, have difficulty with feeding and make a grunting sound with breathing.

“Other symptoms can include weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and trouble breathing,” she adds.

Fight pneumonia

PAN President, Dr. Adebiyi Olowu, notes that while most healthy children can fight the infection with their natural defences, children whose immune systems are compromised are at higher risk of developing pneumonia.

He notes that a child’s immune system may be weakened by malnutrition or undernourishment, especially in infants who are not exclusively breastfed.

Again, he says, pre-existing illnesses, such as HIV, diarrhoea and measles increase a child’s risk of contracting pneumonia.

In addition, the physicians say, environmental factors such as indoor air pollution caused by cooking and heating with wood or dung, living in crowded homes and parental smoking also increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia.

Sanofi to the rescue

In his speech at the conference, the Medical Director of Sanofi, Dr. Fifen Inoussa, says the firm is committed to sustaining the health of Nigerian children through its paediatrics initiative entitled, “Healthy children, happy children.”

Inoussa says in its bid to rescue Nigerian children from pneumonia infections, Sanofi has developed medicines and vaccines that specifically target the causative agents.

“By taking into account the epidemiological profile of our host country, we have broadened our offer of new therapeutic areas, develop formulations and dosages adjusted to the needs of African patients.”

Inoussa adds that Sanofi also engages in the training of health care professionals through continuous education programmes on paediatric topics, and also through the provision of quality medical information.

Towards this end, Inoussa says, Sanofi has entered into strategic partnership with the Paediatrics Association of Nigeria on a series of trainings of health care professionals and also in the management of community-acquired pneumonia in paediatrics.

“This is the evidence of our commitment in the fight against pneumonia in children,” he submits.

The way out

As deadly as it is, pneumonia can be defeated if parents act on time and decisively. Ex-President of PAN, Dr. Dorothy Esangbedo, notes that immunisation against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.

Again, she says, adequate nutrition is key to improving children’s natural defences, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

“In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, it also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child becomes ill,” she counsels.

The experts also advise parents to improve environmental factors such as reducing indoor air pollution and encouraging good hygiene.

The physicians also say that where complementary feeding must be given to a baby, parents must ensure that it contains adequate nutrition that will fight diseases and infections.

Category: Lifestyle

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