Take steps to better fight pneumonia
We are alarmed to learn that more than 24,000 children still die of pneumonia in the country every year, despite it being a preventable disease. Experts say that deaths from pneumonia can be averted by a combination of efforts taken by the government, private institutions and parents. While immunisation is one of the most important methods of prevention, not all types of pneumonia can be prevented by vaccination. The vaccine used under the government's EPI programme can fight the bacterial cause of the disease; however, pneumonia caused by other organisms such as viruses and fungi cannot be prevented by vaccines.
That's why it is so important to strengthen our healthcare system so that children with pneumonia, even those in the remotest areas, can be treated through proper medical interventions.
Pneumonia remains the single-largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide but the situation in Bangladesh is particularly worrying, given our weak healthcare system. True, the government's vaccine coverage is quite satisfactory, with the current vaccination rate for pneumonia being 97 percent. But there are areas that need proper attention. According to the Bangladesh Health Facility Survey 2017, 95 percent of hospitals and healthcare institutions in the country do not have all of the 10 basic instruments – Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) guideline, child scale, thermometer, growth chart, medicine, ORS, zinc tablets/syrup, amoxicillin syrup/suspension, and mebendazole, etc. – which are often required to treat children, as suggested by the WHO. Under such circumstances, treating pneumonia in government hospitals has become quite difficult.
Particularly, the upazila health complexes still lack proper medical equipment such as nebulisers, pulse oximetres, a proper oxygen supply system, and necessary drugs and antibiotics to treat child pneumonia. Add to that the failure of relevant authorities to educate parents on the need for early detection of the disease. Early detection is crucial for treating pneumonia in children. Surveys have found that parents often take their children to hospital at the last moment, especially when they need critical interventions like oxygen support. Government hospitals in rural settings often lack such crucial support systems, leading to many child deaths.
Another barrier to fighting child pneumonia is the lack of proper data. While we have data on pneumonia-related deaths, we do not have any data on the infection rates. And even though 60 to 70 percent of people reportedly seek treatment in private hospitals and clinics, these hospitals do not have pneumonia-related data available for use. We need to work on this issue too.
It cannot be denied that the government has made some achievements in reducing pneumonia-related deaths and the overall child mortality rate in the country. But given the still-high death toll, it must do more to improve our health system so that no children die of any preventable diseases like pneumonia.