Many Nigerians have a wrong mind set about pneumonia. They ignorantly warn children and wards not to take cold drinks or water to avoid contracting pneumonia and sometimes encourage them instead to wear sweater or thick clothings to prevent it but the main cause is pneumonia virus transmitted by inhaling germs from dirty environments or ingesting same through the mouth by eating contaminated fluids. If it was due to cold, all the children in cold regions abroad would have contracted it by now.’
But this is far from truth and pneumonia still accounts for about 17 per cent of total infant mortality recorded yearly in the country.
In Nigeria, the picture is rather gloomy – 1 in seven children dies before the age of 5, pneumonia kills one child every three minutes, and six million Nigerian children could become sick or die due to pneumonia this year alone. The disease remains the greatest killer of children under five years.
Delta State is one of the states in Nigeria that seems to have a clear strategy for tackling this silent killer. In 2012, the Delta State Government partnered with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to immunise 2000 internally displaced children between the ages of 2-5 at various camps in the state. The PCV13 vaccines were procured through the state ministry of Health to vaccinate the children at the relief camps across the state. It was part of their overall strategy for preventing deaths from preventable childhood diseases.
Ahead of the Delta State/Pfizer collaboration programme, nurses and immunisation officers were adequately trained on appropriate vaccine handling, safety reporting and cold chain management.
Delta State Governor Emmanuel Udiaghan emphasised that vaccine immunisation as well as environmental care remains the most viable way to combat the antibiotic resistant pneumonia disease especially in camp environments. The vaccine immunisation programme took place in Asaba, Kwale and Isoko camps where the impact of the floods was most severe.
From hindsight, the World Health Organisation (WHO) supports the priority inclusion of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in national childhood immunisation programmes to help significantly reduce global mortality and morbidity
Consultant Paediatrician, Dr Olajide Ojo said: ‘To reduce the dreadful rate of pneumococcal infections, which kills 17 children every hour in the country especially among low income earners, Nigerians must adopt improved hygienic lifestyles and increase vaccine intake for their children’, he counselled.
Many countries around the world have seen increased rates of invasive pneumococcal disease following the implementation of a National Immunization Programme. The impact of PCV 13 on the burden of pneumococcal disease and antibiotic resistances, the prevalence and impact of disease on high risk children especially sickle cell patients and recommendations for the use of PCVs in various countries.
To end on a positive note, the good news is that pneumonia is preventable. In 2009, WHO and UNICEF released the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP) showing that pneumonia deaths could be reduced by two-thirds if existing interventions to protect against, prevent and treat pneumonia could be scaled up to reach 90 per cent of the world’s children.
The Delta State Pfizer collaboration is a great example of a strategic approach to prevent deaths from pneumonia through a simple vaccine programme. The results reinforce the need to reinvigorate political and social action to educate, inspire and create meaningful change in Nigeria and other developing countries that need it most.
A crucial part of the solution is to recognise the danger and take adequate preventive measures. By focusing on children in the poorest households, many more lives can be saved. It is also important to increase family awareness of the dangers of pneumonia and the critical importance of seeking care quickly and exploring new models of service delivery that better integrate pneumonia diagnosis treatment with the delivery of vaccines. Until this happens, pneumonia will remain Nigeria’s biggest and most silent killer of infants and little children.