Pneumonia No. 1 killer of children under 5: Report

Pneumonia continues to be the leading cause of deaths among children under five years of age in India. According to the Pneumonia Progress Report 2012 brought out by the International Vaccine Access Centre and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in 2010, India recorded the highest under-five mortality from the dreaded disease.

Though in the period 2000-10, the overall child mortality dipped from 9.6 million to 7.6 million across the world, the disease continues to be the number one killer, taking the lives of 1.3 million in 2011 alone.

More than 99 per cent of all pneumonia deaths occurred in developing countries and three-quarters of it in 15 countries, among which India tops the list. Bangladesh and Tanzania which used to rank 12th and 15th, respectively, are no longer in the list.

Dr Nitin Verma, senior consultant, paediatrician, at Max Superspecialty Hospital, said the figures are in line with the known health indicators. "In the vulnerable age-group of under two years and five years, pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two major killers," he said.

Verma said vaccination coupled with breast feeding and nutrition interventions can be effective in preventing deaths. "But that has not happened here even though with consortia like GAVI pitching in, funding is no longer the sole constraint for the government," he said. The report says the intervention coverage stood at a lowly 55 per cent in the country.

In a bid to increase the overall immunisation rate, currently 61 per cent, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has already identified 204 districts in the country with a less than 50 per cent immunisation coverage.

Of the 204 districts, 98 are in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The ministry has set the ball rolling to identify systemic lapses in each of these districts.

Though pentavalent vaccines, which includes the one against pneumonia, was introduced last year, results will take time to show. Endemic diarrhoea is one of the principal impediments in vaccination with the medicine often leaving the body even before it starts producing antibodies.

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