A Shot In Arm Prevents Children From Pneumonia
Pneumonia, the leading global killer of children under five, is a disease that occurs most commonly when a child’s still-developing defence system is weakened by malnutrition, air pollution, co-infections with HIV/AIDS and measles, and low birth weight. Appropriate therapies will cure most cases of paediatric bacterial pneumonia. But many children go untreated, and as a result as many as 20% of them die, sometimes within 3 days of onset. It is no wonder then, that pneumonia is responsible for almost 1.6 million deaths per year, which is about one-fifth of all paediatric deaths around the world. Apart from breastfeeding and improved living conditions, access to vaccines and antibiotics, and timely treatment can dramatically reduce deaths from childhood pneumonia in developing countries. Vaccines to prevent diseases associated with streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenza type b are remarkably effective. Children in countries without these vaccines are 40 times more likely to die than those in countries where they are routinely administered. Wider use of measles vaccine (which covered 75% of the world’s children in 2004) can also lessen paediatric pneumonia significantly, as pneumonia can cause death among the 30 to 40 million children infected by measles every year. Dr Gourdas Choudhuri, Professor and Head Gastroenterology Department, Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS), Lucknow, while acknowledging that the role of vaccines in preventing the disease cannot be overlooked, raises a few pertinent points regarding the issue. According to him, “Some vaccines, like the Hib vaccine, are good and a must, which should be given routinely. The pneumococcal vaccine is another good vaccine. But the issue is whether the strains causing the disease, which are present in the community, are the same as those present in the vaccine. Otherwise the vaccine will not work, and the money spent will not get the protection one is expecting. Pneumococcus, one of the germs that cause pneumonia in children, has many strains. The vaccine, which is currently available, has strains that are found chiefly in the western world, and its profile does not match with the strains found in our country. So a routine immunization with one vaccine may not work. As pneumonia, a serious infection of the lungs, can be caused by several germs—pneumococcus bacteria, influenza virus, swine flu virus, etc—a vaccine will work well against some of these but not all. So it is difficult to have a single complete vaccine for full protection.” Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) protects against 13 out of the 20 most common pneumococcal strains known as serotypes; and reduces hospital admissions linked to child pneumonia by almost 40%. As of 2008, around 31 countries had introduced the pneumococcal vaccine and 15 others had applied for support from The Global alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) to fund the vaccine. Hib vaccine (Haemophilus Influenzae type b) is another highly effective vaccine and 136 countries have introduced it either nationwide or partly, and 102 countries have introduced it widely. 42 million children had received the vaccination. The vaccine is not routinely available in India (and many Asian countries), although available in Central and South America and most of Africa.