By Joseph Maina
Kenya has made strides in its fight against pneumonia, with the country witnessing fewer pneumonia deaths annually between 2012-2016, the Ministry of Health has said.
In a communication released on World Pneumonia Day, the Ministry said the drop in the number of deaths is due to interventions like improved vaccination cover.
“Pneumonia deaths decreased from 19,000 to 11,000 annually in Kenya between 2012 and 2016 due to interventions like improved vaccination coverage,” the Ministry announced in November.
“Child mortality has declined by almost 30 per cent since 2008, due to increased interventions.”
Among the reasons cited for the decline in child mortality were the uptake of ORS and Zinc for the management of diarrhea in children under five years, improved exclusive breastfeeding practices, introduction of new childhood vaccines like pneumococcal and rotavirus.
Kenya was in July 2013 mentioned in a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report among ten countries in which 60 per cent of pneumonia deaths occur each year. Others in the cluster included Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The Ministry now says it has invested in three thematic areas to fight pneumonia, namely, Protecting, Preventing, and Treating Pneumonia. These are among efforts aimed at improving newborn, child and adolescent health services, in line with the vision of the Government of Kenya.
“Improving newborn, child and adolescent health services is a priority for the government as reflected in the Constitution and the Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan 2014-2018,” the Ministry went on. “Investing in Newborn, Child and Adolescent (NCAH) is key to the achievement of vision 2030.”
In its recommendations, the Ministry cites early seeking of treatment and administration of appropriate recommended antibiotics as one way of preventing pneumonia. It also cites the role breastfeeding plays in averting the illness among children.
“A child who is not breastfed is 25 per cent more likely to get pneumonia,” the Ministry announced on its official Twitter handle, on the sidelines of events held to mark the World Pneumonia Day. The theme for this year’s celebrations was “Stop Pneumonia; Invest in Child Health.” World Pneumonia Day, held on November 12 every year, was first hosted in 2009 when over 100 organizations joined to form the Global Coalition against Child Pneumonia.
In Kenya, this year’s event was marked on Monday, November 13, with a symposium on childhood pneumonia held at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Nairobi. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the day is marked every year to raise awareness about the illness, which is the leading cause of deaths among children under the age of five.
“Pneumonia,” says WHO, “Is one of the most solvable problems in global health and yet a child dies from the infection every 20 seconds.” WHO estimates that 8.7 million pneumonia deaths were averted globally between 2001 and 2015. According to Dr Warfa Osman, the Head of Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health Unit, pneumonia deaths can be averted through proper nutrition, vaccination, early diagnosis, and treatment.
In marking the day in Kenya this year, Health Cabinet Secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu launched the Amoxicillin Dispersible Tablets, the first line of treatment for the management of pneumonia in children under the age of five years. “Amoxicillin Dispersible are effective in treatment of pneumonia,” said Dr Mailu. “They do not require refrigeration and give accurate dosage.” Dr Mailus added that the tablets are affordable, more effective, and have been recommended in the new pneumonia treatment guidelines.
In its product profile for the drug, UNICEF says Amoxicillin is a low-cost, highly effective antibiotic treatment. “Studies have demonstrated a greater efficacy in the treatment of children with severe cases of pneumonia with Amoxicillin compared to Co-trimaxazole by 4 per cent to 15 per cent,” the report said.
“A five-day course of oral Amoxicillin has also been found to be as safe and clinically similar to treatment with Co-trimaxazole and referral to a health facility.” Amoxicillin, a penicillin-class, broad-spectrum antibiotic, is commonly prescribed to children for the treatment of pneumonia and other illnesses, including bacterial infections of the ears, sinuses, throat, urinary tract, skin, abdomen and blood, and several others.
It is also used as part of the treatment for severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF adds that new and improved WHO community level pneumonia treatment guidelines, combined with the increased availability of Amoxicillin Dispersible tablets, is an effective treatment for pneumonia and simplifies case management at community level.