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Pneumonia epidemic grows worse in Nigeria

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By Mercy Kelani

Nigeria records the highest air pollution-related pneumonia deaths in the world.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the highest number of air pollution-related pneumonia deaths of under-five children in the world. The air Pollution occurs mostly at home from open fire or cooking stoves. In 17 African countries, 50 per cent of pneumonia deaths are caused by air pollution. Many of the deaths occur among children and are caused by household air pollution. In 2019, the deaths of children under the age of five were due to all kinds of air pollution-related pneumonia and reached 67,416 deaths, while deaths due to household-specific air pollution-related pneumonia were 49,591 in the same year.

Pneumonia is a disease, caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, which fill the lungs of children with puss and fluid, leaving them to fight for breath. It has the highest record of children deaths in Nigeria, causing 17 percent of the deaths of children under-five. About 443 Nigerians die per day, leading to an equivalent of 18 deaths per hour. The situation is worsened by increasing overpopulation in places like Lagos State which records many cases of pneumonia.

The use of vaccines and antibiotics could prevent the epidemic.

The Chief Nursing Officer of Ita Elewa Centre, a health center in Ikorodu, Lagos, stated that he attends to about 200 patients every day and almost 10,000 in a month, most of which are suffering from air pollution-related pneumonia. He also complained of insufficient supply of oxygen for the use of patients which has also contributed to the loss of lives. Although, charitable donations from Save the Children and the British pharmaceutical company (GSK) have made efforts to alleviate the situation through the provision of oxygen canisters and additional training to assist health officials with the early identification of pneumonia cases, so as to administer life-saving treatment.

Many pneumonia deaths are preventable through the use of Vaccines and treatment with low-cost antibiotics. However, over 43 percent of one-year-olds in Nigeria have not received the pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), with one in four Nigerian children suffering from symptoms having no access to medical treatment. The fight against pneumonia in Nigeria is not an easy one, but organizations like GSK and Save the Children have been working towards the improvement of skills and knowledge, in the region.

Save the Children and GSK assist Nigeria in the fight against pneumonia.

Poor access to good healthcare facilities and available information contribute to pneumonia deaths in remote regions of Nigeria. In Jigawa State, for example, there is a likelihood that its residents are ignorant of the prevention of pneumonia and how it is treated. Some communities in this state, however, are now enlightened on pneumonia, as they benefit from small groups of well-informed community health workers and citizens, endorsed by Save the Children and GSK’s program, who help to fight against the pneumonia Epidemic.

Also, there have been really low rates of vaccination in the state, coupled with the reality that over 12-23 month-olds children were not immunized with the pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine, a protection from pneumonia. Mobile vaccination teams attempt the provision of life-saving treatment to the children, through the use of motorbikes, to reach the most inaccessible regions. This is done to ensure that every child receives three doses of the PCV within an interval of four weeks, for a proper prevention from the epidemic.

Nigerian households should have more access to clean cooking fuels.

The UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, urged the Nigerian government to establish policies for the reduction of the main causes of air pollution-related pneumonia deaths in Nigeria; especially in children. One of the ways of achieving this is by granting Nigerian households more access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, thereby increasing the use of LPG gas for cooking, and assisting families with financing the cost of clean stoves and fuels. There should also be an improvement in the services designed to diagnose and treat pneumonia, improve nutrition, vaccine coverage and breastfeeding rates. With all these in place, there will be an improvement in the health of children, leading to a reduction in the risk of death, even after contraction.


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