New data has revealed that over 800,000 children under the age of five died from pneumonia last year. That equates to one life lost every 39 seconds. Furthermore, data has revealed that regardless of the country, the poorest of society are most at risk.
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A forgotten epidemic
A new analysis has found that a staggering number of children lost their lives to pneumonia last year, with most dying before their second birthday, and 153,000 dying during their first month of life. Not even diarrhea or malaria claimed more lives, highlighting the urgency to take action.
The data is shocking, and it motivated six leading health and children’s organizations to launch an appeal this month, seeking global action to protect children against premature death from pneumonia.
How treatable is pneumonia
Pneumonia is an infection that affects the lungs and makes breathing difficult for those infected. It is caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. While it can be treated and prevented fairly easily, it still accounts for 15% of deaths of children under five worldwide, making it the single largest infectious cause of death in children around the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) report that it is most prevalent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, although children in all countries are at risk.
Pneumonia is a treatable condition, a course of strong antibiotics are the usual route to treatment, with hospitalization necessary for severe cases. Prevention, however, also plays a key role in protecting both adults and children from pneumonia.
Access to adequate nutrition and limitation to exposure to air pollution are key preventative methods, although, in developing countries, this can often be a challenge. Studies show that, unfortunately, just a third of children infected with pneumonia gain access to the antibiotics they need.
Not just a crisis in the developing world
In the UK last year, 56,210 children were admitted to hospital emergency wards because of pneumonia, representing a 50% rise compared with statistics from the previous ten years. In the US, it is the most common reason for children to be hospitalized.
The data makes it clear that pneumonia is not just a problem for the developing world, where it may be harder to prevent the illness from occurring, and suitable antibiotics may be less available; It is also a significant problem for the developed world.
It is believed that the poorest in these developed societies are being hit hardest by pneumonia. Data tells us that every 10 minutes, a child is admitted to hospital in the UK with the illness, and that children from the poorest families are most likely to be admitted.
While in the UK most children survive through gaining access to the appropriate treatment, there are still some who die unnecessarily, with pneumonia claiming the lives of at least two children a month. Between April 2018 and March 2019, a total of 27 children in the UK lost their lives to pneumonia.
While preventative methods are well established in the UK, with vaccinations available against bacterial pneumonia, there are other forms of the disease that data suggests are on the rise.
Prevention and access to antibiotics needs to be widespread
The bottom line is that simple, low-cost, low-tech medical care is all that is needed to protect children from dying from pneumonia, so it is clear that children around the world are being failed by their healthcare systems.
Structures need implementing that can reliably give those who need it access to the necessary antibiotics, as well as reduce exposure of both young children and adults to the causes of pneumonia, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and pollution.
Empirical data has uncovered that there is a relationship between income and risk of pneumonia, with those in the lowest-earning areas being at greater risk. In order to save the lives of children, this inequality needs to be addressed, with antibiotics and preventative measures being made available to all, regardless of their socio-economic status.