More awareness on pneumonia needed: Health experts

November 2nd, 2009 - 7:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) A vaccine targeting the rampant pneumonia haemophillus bacteria will soon be included in the country’s routine immunisation programme, health experts said Monday, also stressing the need to raise awareness on the disease that annually claims lives of 400,000 children in India.
“Ten states will introduce the HiB vaccine into their routine immunisation programme next year,” said Panna Choudhury of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), at an event to observe World Pneumonia Day (Nov 2) held as part of a campaign in 20 countries to focus on the disease.

The WHO estimates that two bacteria alone - HiB and pneumococcus - cause nearly 50 percent of pneumonia deaths in children under five years in India. There are vaccines to treat the diseases but these are, however, expensive and cost nearly Rs.400 for three doses.

With the inclusion of the HiB vaccine next year and pneumococcal vaccine in 2010, costs could be reduced drastically, bringing preventive treatment within the common man’s reach.

At the event, health experts from national as well as international advocacy and aid agencies like World Health Care Organisation, USAID, UNICEF, IAP and Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) held detailed discussions on controlling the spread of pneumonia, which kills more children in the world than any other disease.

“Pneumonia is one of the most critical child health problem we face in India today. A common integrated plan will help us in vanquishing pneumonia as the number one killer of children under 5 in India,” said Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, in a statement read out at the event.

“It is imperative to raise awareness among mothers, especially rural areas, about the early symptoms of pneumonia such as coughing and wheezing. Timely treatment could prevent the untimely deaths of many infants and toddlers,” said K. Srinath Reddy, president of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

India accounts for 27 percent of the average 2 million deaths from pneumonia and has the highest number of pneumonia cases in the world. The number of deaths is also high in Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Henri Van Den Hombergh from UNICEF India said: “We need a full fledged war against the disease, not just peaks of advocacy. Funding is very crucial and building a support health care system for people to approach with trust is again essential.”

Another issue discussed was the treatment gap of children who suffered from pneumonia symptoms.

“According to the national family health survey, only 12.5 percent received antibiotics for their complaints of cough and difficult breathing that is suggestive of pneumonia. If antibiotic treatment was universally delivered to children with pneumonia, around 600,000 lives could be saved annually,” said Rajesh Mehta of WHO India.

Experts are also calling for improving training at the community level to rapidly provide care to children who otherwise may die of pneumonia at home without treatment.

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