LAHORE: Pakistan ranks third in the list of 15 high burden countries where the estimated deaths of children by pneumonia is alarmingly high.

According to the latest report, 71,000 children die of pneumonia every year in Pakistan. The report says India is at the top where 174,000 children die annually followed by Nigeria (121,000), says a senior official of the health department while talking to Dawn.

The report has been released by the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia in the wake of the World Pneumonia Day 2014 which was observed on Wednesday across the world.

The health official says the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia announced that the theme of the 2014 World Pneumonia Day commemorations will be “Universal access to pneumonia prevention and care”.

71,000 children die annually in the country

Quoting some contents of the “Pneumonia Fact Sheet-2014”, he says Pakistan is even far behind some low-profile countries in preventing deaths of children under five years of age by this disease. These countries include Ethiopia (35,000), Angola (26,000), Indonesia (22,000), Afghanistan (20,000), Kenya (18,000), Bangladesh (17,000), Sudan (17,000), Uganda (16,000), Niger (15,000), and Tanzania (14,000).

“Pneumonia is the number one infectious killer of children under age 5 globally, killing an estimated 9,350,002 children each year,” the report says. Pneumonia causes 15pc of all deaths in children under age 5 worldwide – 2pc of which are newborns.

The report has also issued fresh guidelines for the world, particularly the 15 high burden countries, for prevention and control of children deaths by this fatal disease. It stresses exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life and adequate nutrition up to age 5 improves children’s natural defenses, protecting them from pneumonia. It says more than 50pc of pneumonia deaths among children under 5 globally were linked to household air pollution.

The World Health Organisation’s new guidelines on indoor air quality set targets for reducing harmful household pollutants and offer greater clarity on specific fuels considered unsafe for use in the home. Immunisation against Haemophilus influenzae type B, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough can prevent cases of pneumonia from ever occurring.

Former Dean of Children’s Hospital Lahore Prof Tahir Masood told Dawn the major factor behind the enormous ratio of deaths among children by pneumonia was the failure of primary healthcare programmes in Pakistan and lack of commitment to fight the disease.

He said the acute respiratory infection programme was launched by the World Health Organisation in Pakistan in order to prevent deaths of children under 5 by pneumonia. He said the programme was later replaced by the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) but after launching it as pilot project in some major cities, including Multan and Quetta, this programme also met the same fate.

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“Now the government is addressing all the children diseases under Maternal, Neonatal & Child Health (MNCH) programme which could not bear fruit,” Prof Tahir said. He said Pakistan’s progress towards the MDG4 was desperately less than the target set for 2015.

“Pakistan’s ratio in the prevention of deaths of children under 5 was reported 1.5 so far, compared to the 3.5 set under the MDG4,” Prof Tahir Masood lamented.

He expressed dissatisfaction with the sorry state of affairs regarding the measures for saving lives of the minors, saying the IMNCI and ARI programmes were significantly getting progress in other countries.

He said controlling childhood pneumonia required correct and consistent delivery of an integrated package of interventions to protect, prevent, and treat the disease.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2014