Boosting efforts to fight pneumonia could avert over two million child deaths from pneumonia and other major diseases in Nigeria, a new analysis has found.
The modelling by Johns Hopkins University is being released today as nine leading health and children’s agencies host the world’s first global conference on childhood pneumonia in Barcelona.
Forecasts by UNICEF show that 1.4 million children under the age of five could die from pneumonia over the next decade in Nigeria, on current trends – the highest number of any country in the world and more than 20 per cent of childhood deaths from pneumonia globally.
However, an estimated 809,000 of these deaths would be averted by significantly scaling up services to prevent and treat pneumonia.
“We have a responsibility to do all we can to avert these deaths by pneumonia – deaths that are nearly all preventable. It will take concerted action by all players,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria’s Country Representative.
Researchers also found boosting pneumonia services would create an additional ‘ripple effect’, preventing 1.2 million extra child deaths from other major childhood diseases at the same time.
Interventions like improving nutrition, increasing vaccine coverage or boosting breastfeeding rates – key measures that reduce the risk of children dying from pneumonia – would also stop thousands of child deaths from diseases like diarrhoea (580,000), meningitis (68,000), measles (55,000) and malaria (4,000).
By 2030, that effect would be so large that pneumonia interventions alone would avert over 2 million predicted under-five child deaths in Nigeria from all causes combined, researchers said.
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid.
The disease is the leading killer of children in Nigeria, causing 19 per cent of under-five deaths.
Most pneumonia deaths can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics. But more than 40 per cent of one-year-olds in Nigeria are unvaccinated, and three in four children suffering from pneumonia symptoms do not get access to medical treatment.
On January 29-31, nine leading health and children’s organisations – ISGlobal, Save the Children, UNICEF, Every Breath Counts, ”la Caixa” Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, Unitaid and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – are hosting world leaders at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Barcelona, the first international conference on childhood pneumonia.
Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s health minister, would announce the world’s first-ever pneumonia control strategy at the conference, alongside Save the Children Ambassador DJ Cuppy.
Mr Hawkins said the announcement – coupled with the focus globally on combatting pneumonia – is a huge step forward.
“We now need to follow this with concrete action on the ground to address the causes and drivers of childhood pneumonia deaths in this country,” he added.
Deirdre Keogh, Country Director, Save the Children International, said the number of lives that could be saved is potentially far higher, as the modelling did not take account of factors like availability of medical oxygen, or action to reduce levels of air pollution, a major risk factor for pneumonia.
“These results show what is possible if vaccines, affordable antibiotics and routine oxygen treatment are available for all.”
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