Pneumonia and diarrhea have killed about 1.5 million children under the age of 5 worldwide. They together claim the lives of every fourth child under the age of 5, globally. Out of these 16% of death in children were attributed to Pneumonia. In India alone, about 3 lakh children died in the year of 2015, making India the top country contributing to the global burden of child pneumonia.
There are multiple agents that cause Pneumonia, many that include, virus, bacteria and fungi. Among these, bacterial infections, cause the most number of deaths in India. The most common cause of a bacterial infection in children is Streptococcus Pneumonia (or Pneumococcus). It usually colonizes and takes control of the respiratory tract, sinuses and nasal cavity. Children who have a weaker immune system are likely to contract the disease more quickly and the bacteria may spread to other parts of the body.
Heamophilus Influenza type- B (Hib) is another bacterial agent, and the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia, which causes severe pneumonia in children. According to WHO, it causes non-epidemic meningitis which also further has been linked to neurological sequela, especially in children. In 2013, India observed about 35,000 pneumonia deaths caused by Hib. Together, Pneumococcus and Hib account for 60% of severe bacterial pneumonia in children, in India.
Respiratory syncitial virus, is the most common viral cause of pneumonia while the Pneumocystis Jerovii is the most common cause of pneumonia among infant who are infected with HIV.
The government of India introduced two vaccines to combat the global burden of child death caused by pneumonia, Hib Vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine. The Hib vaccine is given as a part of the pentavalent vaccine to children, whereas PCV is given multiple times as a single dose to children.
Dr. Katherine O’Brien, a professor and an executive director at the JHBSPH, talks to ET Health world about India’s initiative of introducing PCV under its national immunization program and how it will be beneficial. She explains why this is an important step not only considering public health factors but also economic reasons for the community. By investing in the vaccines the parents and the community alike will marginally cut down the cost spent on children who could likely get admitted in the hospital because of either pneumonia or meningitis. For the government it will be beneficial in terms of the return on investment of vaccines. By introducing the vaccines in the national immunization program, the government has definitely tried to bridge the gap between the most marginalized community, especially the most vulnerable children, and combating pneumonia.