For the most part we take breathing for granted, but what if you had to fight for each breath?
Earlier this year I visited Dr. Loyse Mutae of Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi and the hospital’s intensive care ward for children with pneumonia. Three infants were in a small back room, their mothers anxiously sitting beside them. A plastic tube came off a single oxygen tank and then split, catheters taped to their small nostrils so that all three children had a stream of life-giving oxygen. It was clear that they were desperately ill. Imagine the horror of watching your child’s breath taken away, her light slowly extinguishing like a candle trapped under a glass.
Afterward we visited the recovery ward where dozens of children were recuperating, sometimes three to a bed. Here were the lucky ones--some of their mothers had travelled hours to make it to a high quality hospital with caring staff capable of saving their children.
Every year it’s estimated that over 1 million children die due to pneumonia, with 98 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries. While the inequity is shocking, the good news is that it means childhood pneumonia is a solvable problem. Children do not and should not have to die from it.
Now, more than ever, there is hope. Vaccines that prevent the major causes of death due to pneumonia--Hib and pneumococcus--are being made available to children in resource-poor settings at an unprecedented pace and scale. As of World Polio Day 2011, Kenya and 15 other countries introduced pneumococcal conjugate vaccines with the support of the GAVI Alliance.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization are helping to mobilize action and to reduce deaths due to pneumonia and other fatal illnesses in countries where children are at the highest risk (one of the Millennium Development Goals). People are starting to take notice and demand action against these needless deaths. You can too.
November 12th is World Pneumonia Day. Please consider supporting partners such as GAVI, UNICEF, and other organizations that are working to improve children’s health and to help make sure that children everywhere can breathe easy.