By Sola Ogundipe
On World Pneumonia Day, Save the Children International, SCI, Nigeria has tasked the federal, state, and local governments and partners to urgently champion the fight against childhood pneumonia, by prioritising equitable access to primary health care, including prevention through immunisation, prevention and treatment of wasting, and diagnosis and treatment of common causes of illness and death for every child.
Making the call in a statement to herald the day commemorated every November 14, SCI Nigeria called on all concerned to keep up the momentum of investing in uninterrupted and sustainable access to oxygen in all healthcare facilities in Nigeria, while strengthening essential health and nutrition services and making the needed investment in primary healthcare, inclusive of community-based primary healthcare, to prevent thousands of children from dying from pneumonia and other preventable causes.
Lamenting the menace of childhood pneumonia, which is the largest infectious, killer disease of children under the age of five, SCI Nigeria is asking government at all levels to prioritise, introduce, and scale up access to pneumonia-fighting vaccines such as PCV for all children, especially targeting children suffering from or at risk of severe acute malnutrition and zero-dose children.
Among other measures, SCI Nigeria seeks prioritisation of the prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition and ensuring sustainable and adequate funding for nutrition to accelerate a reduction of child deaths from pneumonia, in addition to ensuring every child has access to life-saving treatment, including antibiotics and oxygen when and where they need it.
“Now is the time for Federal, State and Local Governments to take deliberate steps to leverage COVID-19 oxygen investments and ongoing funding opportunities to keep up the momentum to improve basic oxygen access and use – so no child is left fighting for breath,” the statement noted.
Famari Barro, the Country Director, SCI Nigeria said, “the unprecedented global climate and economic crisis poses grave threats to children’s health and survival. Our flagship INSPIRING project through our partnership with GlaxoSmithKline, GSK, has been at the forefront of the fight against pneumonia in Nigeria.
“The fight must continue, and government must continue to champion this fight to protect thousands of children who die every year from this killer disease,” he avowed.
On this year’s theme, “championing the fight to stop pneumonia”, Barro said it reminds us that urgent action is needed to protect the 700,000 children who are denied the chance to reach their fifth birthday every year.
“Almost all those deaths are preventable through vaccination, adequate nutrition, access to hand washing and basic health services, including access to oxygen treatment at the primary healthcare level. However, thousands of children are unable to access the essential health services and treatments, which can tackle pneumonia and save their lives.”
He recalled that even though the government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Health has demonstrated its commitment towards ending child death from pneumonia, there is a need for greater commitment to sustain the momentum and accelerate progress in the fight against pneumonia.
“The National Pneumonia Control Strategy and Implementation Plan launched by the Ministry of Health in 2020, requires budgetary allocations in order to ensure its full implementation. With pneumonia accounting for 20 percent of under-five deaths in Nigeria, reducing pneumonia deaths will put Nigeria on track towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 by 2030. Currently, Nigeria is still below 50 percent of the required rate for SDG3.”
Further, Barro explained that pneumonia can be treated if sick children have access to timely care and treatment.
“Sadly, for many children and their families, access to timely essential and life-saving treatments such as oxygen and antibiotics remains the difference between life and death. The good news is, pneumonia is no longer a ‘forgotten’ killer disease.”
On his part, the Chief of Party, INSPIRING Project, SCI Nigeria Dr. Adamu Isah said, “Evidence from our interventions in Jigawa and Lagos States have confirmed that we know the tools to confront pneumonia and end child deaths.
“We have improved the skills of healthcare providers to better detect and treat children with pneumonia and donated high-quality and needed equipment and instruments to health facilities for improved quality of care. Our community interventions have improved caregivers and wider community awareness about pneumonia and improved their participation in the quality of healthcare they receive.
“Save the Children appreciates the generous support from GSK and is grateful to the governments of Lagos and Jigawa States for providing the enabling leadership and policy environment for the project to succeed.”