Pneumonia is one of India’s biggest killers for children under five. November 12 is celebrated as World Pneumonia Day to raise awareness about the burden of the disease as in India, pneumonia is one of the two leading infectious causes of death in children under five. Along with diarrhoea, it claims the lives of over 2.3 lakh children yearly.
The International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have released their yearly Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report and India is shown to have made steady progress in eradicating the diseases through the years.
According to the report, in 2019, India’s immunization coverage against pneumococcal pneumonia increased by 9 per cent and the coverage of Rotavirus Vaccine (RVV) increased by 18 per cent. India’s ‘100-days agenda’ to scale up RVV will protect India’s birth cohort from life-threatening cases of rotavirus diarrhea.
However, in 2020, COVID-19 is threatening some of the progress made with the disruption of steady health service deliveries like immunization programs.
The report looked at how countries worldwide were faring based on 10 key interventions—including breastfeeding, vaccination, accessing appropriate health care providers, use of antibiotics, oral rehydration solution (ORS), and zinc supplementation.
While the report shows evidence of great progress in India, it’s not all good news, especially on the diarrhea front.
As per the progress report, “India failed to reach all four targets for treatment, but treatment for diarrhea had the lowest coverage in India; only 51% of children received oral rehydration solution (ORS) and only 20% of children received zinc. ORS and zinc, especially when co-packaged together, are highly effective treatments that are proven to reduce deaths from diarrhea in children.”
One of the key findings was the need to strengthen our immunization delivery programs, especially in the midst of the pandemic. When health systems are strained, the most vulnerable populations are affected, and in this case, it is the lives of millions of children. FIT has previously reported on the cost of delaying vaccination for children due to COVID-19.
“While the world focuses on new innovations in vaccines to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, we cannot afford to lose sight of the millions of children who die from preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea. These deaths are almost all preventable with vaccines and simple proven treatments that we already have available. India’s hard work to expand rotavirus vaccine highlights the power of committed stakeholders and the success which can be achieved.”Mathuram Santosham, MD, MPH, IVAC Senior Advisor and Professor in the Department of International Health
One study in The Lancet on immunisation and COVID-19 risk in children in Africa found that, “the deaths prevented by sustaining routine childhood immunisation in Africa outweigh the excess risk of COVID-19 deaths associated with vaccination clinic visits, especially for the vaccinated children.” Of course, country-wide studies need to be undertaken to determine the specific risk.