As the world commemorates the fourth annual World Pneumonia Day today – Tuesday, 12 November – the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has urged parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated against the possible causes of pneumonia.
“The Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), pneumococcal conjugate, measles and pertussis vaccines are available free of charge at South African health facilities as part of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) for the control of childhood pneumonia.
“They are administered during clinic visits at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, 9 months and 18 months,” the NICD said.
Globally, pneumonia is the single largest killer of children under five years of age, as well as the leading infectious cause of childhood mortality.
In 2012 alone, pneumonia killed more than 3 000 children under five years of age every day worldwide. In South Africa, illness and death due to pneumonia has been worsened by the HIV epidemic.
In the year 2000, the global community made a promise to reduce by two thirds the risk that a child will not live to see his or her fifth birthday. The deadline for this promise, now known as the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, is 2015.
However, the NICD said there was bad news as progress towards reaching this goal was not fast enough.
“At present, we are 13 years behind schedule, meaning that we won’t meet MDG 4 until 2028. In the meantime, 35 million more children will die – children whose lives could have been saved had we kept our promise in 2015.”
Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing and chest pain. Wheezing is most common with viral lung infections.
“Learning to recognise these symptoms is potentially life-saving and a child displaying any of these signs and symptoms must be treated urgently,” the NICD advised.
The NICD monitors respiratory infections in children by conducting pneumonia surveillance. All vaccine-preventable diseases within the EPI programme are monitored carefully by the NICD and the National Department of Health.
In addition to monitoring the burden of tuberculosis as an important cause of HIV-associated pneumonia, the NICD also monitors for viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus and influenza virus, which also cause pneumonia, and the latter can be prevented by influenza vaccines. – SAnews.gov.za
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