Pneumonia menace

Published February 20, 2024

PANIC is on the rise as the alarming surge in pneumonia cases has created an explosion of headlines — sans information — about prevention and cure. The menacing respiratory affliction has taken an ugly turn: this paper reported yesterday that a shocking 622 cases had come to light over 24 hours in Punjab and 13 more minors had died of the virus. Last month, some 50pc samples from ailing children tested positive for viral pneumonia, with more than 18,000 registered patients in eastern Punjab. Since Jan 1, the death toll in the province is approximately 400, presenting damning evidence of incompetence on the part of the Punjab caretaker government and health authorities, which preferred cosmetic measures — extended school vacations, shorter classes and face masks — to comprehensive, inoculation-driven initiatives. Even more disturbing is the fact that pneumonia rages on despite the caretaker set-up’s projects for enhancement of emergency and other measures in Lahore’s government teaching institutes, which are worth Rs90bn. The Young Doctors Association, Punjab, too, has drawn attention to the pneumonia fatalities and warned of unavailability of medicines for the poor.

While Unicef states that nearly half of childhood deaths by pneumonia are linked to air pollution, it has also declared South Asia home to the highest number of pneumonia cases among children. Therefore, officialdom should know that we are losing a generation. The time to blame frigid climate and smog is up. It has to hit the ground running with large-scale immunisation campaigns for children and the elderly, distribute cost-free masks, medicines and sanitisers, ensure adequate nutrition and potable water, and advocate hygiene and ventilation in low-income areas. Moreover, awareness about the disease and precautions against its spread in schools and among those with comorbidities is paramount. In addition, the phenomenon of ‘walking pneumonia’ should be studied, so that early detection and treatment can prove successful in averting potentially fatal outcomes. We cannot afford higher statistics.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2024

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