By Angela Atabo
Abuja – UNICEF says pneumonia is the world’s leading infectious killer of children, claiming the lives of more than 2,000 under the age of five every day.
Dr Sanjana Bhardwaj, the Chief of Health, UNICEF Nigeria made this known at the commemoration of the 2019 World Pneumonia Day and World Prematurity Day.
The event was organised by “Save the Children’’, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) in collaboration with UNICEF and other supporters in Abuja on Monday.
Bhardwaj said that pneumonia kills 8000 children annually, a number which Nigeria was a highest contributor.
“Eight thousand of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children die from the disease and 2,000 die daily, the overwhelming majority of these deaths are preventable.
“Yet fatalities are declining slowly, far too slowly for the world to deliver on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) pledge to end preventable child deaths by 2030.
“Changing this picture will require more than a reaffirmation of the SDGs promise, the children whose lives are at stake need a bold agenda backed by urgent action .
“Tackling pneumonia is a call to global action and every step count in fighting this disease.’’
Bhardwaj said there was the need to develop pneumonia control strategies as part of universal health coverage and commit to reducing child pneumonia at fewer than three per 1000 live births.
She said there was also the need to strengthen quality primary health care and action on pneumonia as part of national multi-sectoral plans through integrated strategies including nutrition, water, sanitation, and air pollution.
The UNICEF official called for an increase in government investment in health and nutrition, at least five per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health and increased governance by ensuring transparency and accountability.
She advocated an accelerated vaccination coverage, prioritised research, development and innovation.
Dr Adamu Isah, the Chief of Party, GSK-Pneumonia Project, Save the Children, said that in 2018, Nigeria recorded 22 per cent 1,000 live births under five mortality rate due to pneumonia.
Isah said that 19 per cent of child deaths were due to pneumonia, adding that pneumonia killed 162,000 children under five in 2018 killing more than 18 children every hour.
He said that Save the Children initiated a project called Integrated and Sustained Childhood Pneumonia and Infectious Disease Reduction in Nigeria (INSPIRING) to curb pneumonia in pilot states of Lagos and Jigawa.
This, he said was because it was necessary to tackle pneumonia from the grassroots.
Mrs Tina Taylor, the Deputy Director, Child Survival, Federal Ministry of Health said that the proportion of children with pneumonia that received appropriate treatment in Nigeria currently stood at less than 30 per cent.
Taylor said that majority of childhood pneumonia deaths could be prevented with highly cost-effective vaccines and treated with very low-cost antibiotics which most of the children did not receive.
She said that most caregivers in Nigeria fail to recognise pneumonia as a disease that needed prompt and serious medical attention.
She however, said that the ministry in collaboration with stakeholders had drafted a pneumonia control strategy and implementation plan to among other things provide concrete priorities and recommendation to tackle the disease.