Fighting Pneumonia, the Preventable Killer

Zambian children | Episcopal Relief & DevelopmentNovember 12 is World Pneumonia Day, established in 2009 to raise global awareness and advocacy around a disease that is the leading killer of children under age five worldwide. The event is led by the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia, a group of about 140 government agencies and non-governmental organizations, including Episcopal Relief & Development.

Pneumonia is an infection that fills the lungs with fluid, and can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. Symptoms include coughing, fever and breathing difficulties. According to the World Health Organization, the disease kills an estimated 1.2 million children under five each year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Children living in poverty are at greatest risk of developing the disease, and 98 percent of child pneumonia deaths are in developing nations. Those lacking proper nutrition may have weak immune systems, which raises their likelihood of illness. Indoor air pollution, such as smoke from open cooking fires, also increases susceptibility.

Yet pneumonia is a solvable problem. The disease can be prevented by immunization, good hygiene education and practices, treatment such as antibiotics and antivirals, and addressing underlying issues of nutrition and environment.

In our health programs, Episcopal Relief & Development responds to pneumonia by addressing it as part of integrated health services and education. With this strategy, not only is the disease addressed directly through prevention education and treatment, but also overall health is improved with complementary interventions such as better nutrition and hygiene – thus reducing susceptibility. In the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Mozambique, our partners address pneumonia as a part of integrated community health education and services offered to both adults and children.

In Uganda and Zambia, our partners implement child health programs that address all of the major killers of children under five, including pneumonia. Additionally, our partner the Zambian Anglican Council is preparing for the Zambian government’s introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine as part of its standard package of childhood immunizations, potentially next year. This component includes training community health workers on effective vaccine delivery, and educating community members on the need to immunize their children.

Finally, the Diocese of Central Tanganyika and El Porvenir, our respective partners in Tanzania and Nicaragua, are helping develop and promote the use of clean cook stoves. In many areas, women and children spend the most time near open fires and traditional cook stoves, which can lead to respiratory illnesses, including child pneumonia. Clean cook stoves help reduce this risk by funneling toxic smoke outdoors and away from household members, thereby decreasing smoke inhalation.

I’m glad to know that as our partners work in many ways to help communities improve overall health and well-being, they also are contributing to the goal of preventing millions of deaths from child pneumonia. As Episcopal Relief & Development continues to join forces with the Global Coalition, I look forward to a day when this disease is no longer a threat, and such needless deaths are rare.

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Saranga Jain is a Program Officer with Episcopal Relief & Development.

Photo: Children in Zambia are staying healthier through the Zambian Anglican Council's integrated health programs. The Zambian government will introduce a pneumonia vaccine in the near future, adding another effective tool to fight the disease and save lives.

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