That pneumonia is a widely prevalent disease among children is more or less known in Bangladesh. But not many people are aware of its severity. At least 24,000 children, one of the highest in the world, dies of pneumonia every year. This is largely due to the failure to create necessary awareness among the masses about the need for timely detection of pneumonia symptoms and thereby seeking professional medical care. Unfortunately, most parents fail to read the pneumonia symptoms and let their affected children go without proper medication until it is too late. Pneumonia causes hypoxemia or low oxygen in blood and as parents lack the knowledge in detecting that. Besides, proper vaccination against pneumonia, which can drastically reduce mortality cases, has not received due importance both at policymakers and mass people levels.
The matter came up for discussion at recent seminar titled 'Childhood Pneumonia: Are We Doing Enough', which was organised by ICDDR,B on World Pneumonia Day. The event brought together health specialists to share their findings on the situation. Some startling data point to some serious developments that need to be addressed, urgently. That 40 per cent of children with pneumonia suffer from hypoxemia in Bangladesh, which is nine per cent higher than the global average of 31 per cent. Indeed, international research shows that death due to hypoxemia among children in the country is 22 times higher, especially those children suffering from co-morbidity or malnutrition or diarrhoea. Studies show, pneumonia remains the top killer of children aged below five globally. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that 2-3 children die of the disease every hour. Health specialists unanimously agree that effective vaccines against pneumonia exist and are available in the market.
Parents need to be made aware of how deadly pneumonia can be for their children. There is a lot of misconception in the general sphere about the disease. Most people believe pneumonia is comparable to the seasonal flu and it can be mitigated using over the counter medication. Had that been the case, so much research wouldn't have been necessary and new and improved variants of vaccines would not be evolving on a regular basis. The facts speak for themselves. A recent research involving some Bangladeshi children, who were hospitalised and studied over a two-year period 2019 to 2021, demonstrated "a high prevalence of antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria." Hence, the common practice of administering normal antibiotics to children under five afflicted with pneumonia will not have the desired effect, other than hastening their demise. Though 4.0 million new cases found each year in the country, only 677,000 are hospitalised. In such a situation, the actual deaths because of pneumonia could be higher, as a lot of cases simply do not make it to the national database. Health experts and practitioners believe that vaccines available in the market can prevent pneumonia among infants, children and mothers. Experts believe that if steps are taken to improve indoor air quality, then pneumonia-induced mortality risks could be brought down by 50 per cent, while hand washing could reduce cases by approximately 21 per cent. Then again, if mothers could be encouraged to breastfeed their young, then the risk of pneumonia would be significantly reduced.
Creating awareness on pneumonia will require a multifaceted approach. Bangladesh has had a good track record of conducting health campaigns and there are health complexes down to upazilla and union levels to make such programmes successful. The country also has a large non-government organisation base many of which have healthcare as a core programme. It is high time the government implemented a coordinated national health awareness programme on pneumonia.