Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Breast milk, vaccines halt pneumonia

Deccan Chronicle, August 19, 2007
Syed Akbar
Bangkok, Aug 18: Health experts and doctors from across Asia and the Pacific have emphasised the need for breastfeeding and vaccination to prevent the spread of pneumonia, the infectious disease that has emerged as the largest killer of children under the age of five.
Armed with statistics and data, health experts, attending the 3rd Asian Pneumococcal Diseases Conference organised by Wyeth Limited, argue that proper breastfeeding for at least 11 months accompanied by vaccination will bring down the child deaths related to pneumonia by about a million every year.
Reduction in indoor pollution and intake of nutritious food will also help in building up immunity against the silent killer disease.
"Preventing children from developing pneumonia in the first place is critical to reducing its death roll. Prevention efforts include may well-known survival interventions such as expanding vaccine coverage, breastfeeding, promoting adequate nutrition and reducing indoor air pollution," says Dr Nitin Shah, former president of Indian Paediatrics Association.
Pneumonia kills more children than any other illness, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Over two million children die from pneumonia each year, accounting for almost one in five under-five deaths worldwide. And India leads the chart with 44million cases of pneumonia, followed by China with 18 million.
According to WHO statistics, pneumonia accounts for 19 per cent of all under-five deaths. Around 26 per of neonatal deaths or 10 per cent of all under-five deaths are caused by severe infections during the neonatal period. And a significant proportion of these infections is caused by pneumonia/sepsis. If these deaths were included in the over all estimate, pneumonia would account for up to three million, or as many as one third (29 per cent) of underfive deaths each year.
Unfortunately, pneumonia has received far less attention and funding that malaria and AIDS. While 20 lakh children die of pneumonia, only eight lakh fall victim to malaria. AIDS kills three lakh children.
Health experts point out that children who are exclusively breastfed develop fewer infections and have less severe illnesses than those who are not. Breast milk contains the nutrients, antioxidants, hormones and antibodies needed by the child to survive and develop and specifically for a child's immune system to function properly.
"Infants under six months who are not breastfed are at five times the risk of dying from pneumonia as infants who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Infants 6-11 months old who are not breastfed are also at an increased risk of dying from pneumonia compared to those who are breastfed," the experts said.
The experts were unanimous in their view that immunisation will help reduce childhood deaths from pneumonia by preventing children from developing infections that directly cause pneumonia such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); and from infections that can lead to pneumonia as a complication like measles and pertusis.
Three vaccines - measles vaccine, HiB vaccine and pneumoccoccal conjugate vaccine - have the potential to save millions of children's lives by reducing deaths from pneumonia. They work to reduce the incidence of pneumonia caused by the bacterial pathogens Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib vaccine) as well as pneumonia caused by serious complications from measles (measles vaccine).

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