Pneumonia kills 146,370 Nigerian children yearly – Paediatricians

Pneumonia is the second major killer of Nigerian children after malaria. Paediatricians, mothers and caregivers who spoke with BUKOLA ADEBAYO at a screening exercise in Lagos, called on government to provide pneumococcal vaccination to fight the disease

Medical experts are worried about the rate at which Nigerians, particularly children, are losing their lives to pneumonia. According to them, about 146, 370 children are killed yearly by the disease. This number, they said, is unacceptable for a disease that can be prevented with simple precautions like immunisation and good hygiene.

They identified ignorance on the cause of the disease, low breastfeeding and non-inclusion of the pneumococcal vaccine in the national routine immunisation programme of the country as some of the factors responsible for the high death rate occasioned by pneumonia.

They warned that if government and parents failed to key into the fight, against pneumonia, infant mortality might continue to increase especially at the grass roots.

The experts spoke with our correspondent at a free screening programme organised by the Paediatric Association of Nigeria for artisans, mothers and pregnant women at the Isolo Market, Mushin in Lagos on Monday as part of activities to mark the World Pneumonia Day.

PAN President, Dr. Dorothy Esangbedo, while welcoming participants, said the association had organised the event to educate parents on the causes of the disease.

According to her, many Nigerians are ignorant about the factors responsible for the ailment, stressing that contrary to the widely held belief that pneumonia is caused by exposure to cold weather and cold water, the disease is a communicable one caused by a pneumococcal virus.

A survey conducted during the screening revealed that 90 per cent of participants had a wrong notion of the causes of the disease. Their responses confirmed Esangbedo’s fear.

For instance, a mother, who came with her eight months old baby, Mrs. Anike Ajayi, said she had always believed that pneumonia was caused by uncontrolled exposure to cold weather, rain or water.

She said, “When I was growing up, my parents banned all my siblings from taking anything cold .Even our teachers warned us not to take cold drinks. They said it would cause pneumonia. I always tell my children to stay away from cold things. I make them eat hot meals and ensure they keep warm.”

Ajayi is not the only one with this wrong mindset about pneumonia. Many Nigerians have this wrong perception about the disease.

Also, a consultant paediatrician with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi- Araba, Dr. Ekanem Ekure, said that pneumonia is caused by the Streptocucous Pneumoniae which is found in bacteria, fungi, virus and not cold water, weather or food.

She said, “As we have discovered here, many Nigerians do not know what truly causes pneumonia. We also conducted a survey for mothers in our clinic in LUTH, three quarter of them thought that pneumonia was caused by exposure to cold weather or water and the other quarter had not even heard of it.

“Pneumonia is the second killer of our children after malaria in Nigeria. It accounts for about 17 per cent of total infant mortality recorded yearly in the country, yet our mothers and fathers are ignorant of its causes and prevention.”

She noted that pnuemoniae is transmitted by inhaling germs from dirty environments or ingesting same through the mouth by eating contaminated fluids.

She said, “Pneumococcal infections occur when children or adults are exposed to germ and not cold weather. If it was due to cold, all the children in cold regions abroad would have contracted it by now.

“When this bacteria or virus gets into the body either through the mouth or other openings in the body,it goes to the gut and contaminates the blood and goes into the lungs to destroy some cells there. That is pneumonia.

“Parents must know that the way this bacteria or virus gets into the body is through germs contracted under poor sanitation and hygiene.It is not prevented or treated by wearing sweaters or keeping warm.”

Ekure,however,noted that children who are predisposed to this disease are those who have not been exclusively breastfed, who attend day care and crèches and are exposed to passive smoke from cigarettes, charcoal, firewood in their homes and those that miss out on routine immunisation.

Ekure said,“Mothers must make sure that the day care they take their children to is not the place where they can be exposed to germs.

“ A child with pneumonia in a creche where hygiene practices are poor will quickly infect others.”

She noted that to reduce the rate of pneumococcal infections, which according to her, kills 17 children every hour in the country, Nigerians must adopt improved hygienic lifestyles and increase vaccine intake for their children.

Ekure noted that though pneumococcal vaccine was not included in the routine immunisation this year, the Federal Government had included the Haemophilus Influenzae Type B vaccine which protects children against some types of pneumonia infections.

However, some of the mothers who spoke with our correspondent at the screening programme said they were yet to take some vaccines for their babies at the hospital because they were usually out of stock.

A mother, Mrs. Sidi Musbau, complained that after her third visits to the hospital immunise for her baby boy, she stopped going because nurses kept telling her to come back citing dearth of the vaccine as reason.

Speaking in Yoruba Language Musbau said, “ They give us dates to come for vaccination but when we get there, they will say it is finished,maybe just 10 children will be immunised that day. After my third unsuccessful attempt to get my child immunised, I decided to wait for the next time they will do mass immunisation in my area but the queue is usually too long.”

Responding to this, Ekure charged the Federal Government to improve vaccination coverage and also include the pneumococcal vaccine to encourage mothers to immunise their children against this disease.

She said, “Yes, sometimes last year there was the problem of stock and shortages in primary health centres but they are working on it.Mothers will not take their children to the clinics if they know they will not get it.”

She also called on government to increase access to safe water to help Nigerians adopt good hygiene such as hand washing which can reduce childhood diseases in the country.

“If we want more children to wash their hands, they must have access to safe and clean water in their homes and schools.

Another a consultant paediatrician, Dr. Olajide Ojo charged mothers to embrace exclusive breastfeeding to fight major diseases.

Ojo said, “The first immunisation God designed for babies is their mother’s breast milk. It naturally prevents and protects them from diseases. It is their right and it should not be denied them. Mothers should breast feed their babies exclusively which means not giving them water for the first six months of their lives.”

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