The recent report that Nigeria tops the list of countries with high pneumonia mortality in the world is quite disturbing. The five most endemic countries of the disease in the world are Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. According to the report, not less than 162,000 children died of the pneumonia scourge in Nigeria in 2018.
The new report by Save the Children group stated that globally, about 802,000 children under the age of five died from pneumonia in 2018 of which the five most endemic countries accounted for more than half of the deaths. Nigeria accounted for 162,000 deaths; India 127,000; Pakistan 58,000; Democratic Republic of Congo 40,000; and Ethiopia 32,000.
The report also revealed that Nigerian children born in poorest households were three times more likely to die from pneumonia before their fifth birthday than children born in rich households. It pointed out that the pneumonia crisis was due to neglect and glaring inequality in access to health care.
At an event to mark the World Pneumonia Day in Abuja some days ago, the Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children, Kevin Watkins, decried that the scourge had become the world’s leading infectious killer of children under the age of five. He also lamented that much attention was not being paid to the killer disease even though the disease could be prevented through vaccines.
Although the scourge can be prevented by vaccines, it is regrettable that millions of children are reportedly dying of the disease for lack of vaccines, affordable antibiotics and routine oxygen treatment. Available data from the United Nations (UN) Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation and Save the Children’s Child Inequality Tracker showed that the disease, a forgotten global health challenge, deserved greater international response.
We lament the rise in the number of pneumonia deaths in the country and call on the federal and state health authorities to map out strategies to tackle the scourge. It is sad that many Nigerian children die of a disease that can be prevented with adequate vaccination.
Pneumonia, according to medical experts, is the inflammation of the lung or lungs caused by bacteria. The symptoms of the disease include cough, which may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus, fever, sweating and shaking chills, shortness of breath and rapid, shallow breathing. Others are sharp or stabbing chest pain, loss of appetite, low energy and fatigue. It can cause nausea and vomiting, especially in small children.
The report that 40 per cent of one-year-old children in Nigeria were not vaccinated and three in four children suffering from pneumonia symptoms did not have access to medical treatment should worry the nation’s health authorities. It is unfortunate that the nation’s health care delivery system is not working effectively. The situation can also explain why our political leaders and affluent Nigerians embark on medical tourism. The government must do something quickly to revive the comatose health sector and change this ugly narrative. The deteriorating health situation in the country calls for an emergency in the sector.
Therefore, there is need to overhaul the nation’s health system. The government should give attention to diseases that affect children. They include malnutrition, cholera, measles and others. They should also provide for the health care needs of young girls, women and the elderly. We call on the Federal and state governments to show much interest in the health of Nigerians. There is urgent need to substantially increase the annual health budget. The current less than five per cent allocation to health sector cannot go anywhere in solving the nation’s myriad health problems.
We also call on wealthy Nigerians and corporate bodies to work with government to halt the pneumonia spread. The government should prioritise the primary healthcare system which habours about 70 per cent of the nation’s disease burden. There should be enlightenment programme about the disease, causes, preventive measures as well as treatment options. Above all, all tiers of government should work together to adequately fund the health sector and prevent the looming health crisis. The pneumonia scourge must be halted before it escalates.