Developing a critical strategy for controlling pneumonia, the main cause of child mortality in Egypt and developing countries, is the ultimate goal of the Alashanek Ya Balady association.
“Protection is Their Right” (PITR) is the association's most recent project, launched Monday at the Goethe Institute in an effort to control the spread of pneumonia in Egypt’s poor communities.
In 2006, the UNICEF/WHO report “Pneumonia, the Forgotten Killer of Children” revealed that the illness, which causes 18 percent of deaths in children under 5 years old worldwide, poses the gravest threat to children compared to AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Every 20 seconds, pneumonia kills another child. This amounts to more than 1.6 million deaths per year and 4300 young lives lost every day from a preventable and treatable disease.
Nehal Nashaat, manager of the recently-launched project, said people living in underprivileged communities are unaware of the simple health precautions necessary for shielding their children against the disease.
“Breast-feeding, balanced nutrition, washing hands frequently, and staying away from pollution and second-hand smoke are the best means of prevention,” she said.
The association plans to spread awareness throughout Egypt, using events such as the third annual Pneumonia Day in November as a first step to combatting the prevalence of pneumonia. It is also advocating that a pneumonia vaccine be included in Egypt's National Immunization Program by 2015.
Vaccine negligence is another contributor to the incidence of pneumonia cases. The vaccine is not listed among the mandatory shots administered by the government and is not affordable for the poor, whose children are most at risk.
“Pneumonia contributes to the cycle of poverty by being an economic burden for low-income families who cannot bear the expenses of its treatment,” said Alashanek Ya Balady founder Raghda al-Ebrahsy.
In an attempt to get this problem under control, the association aims to vaccinate 10,000 high-risk children in 10 governmental hospitals with the PCV7 vaccine to protect them against pneumococcal diseases and pneumonia and establish a clinic on the Egyptian Pediatrics Association’s premises to vaccinate underprivileged children for free.
Alashanek Ya Balady plays a role in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, a program launched by the United Nations Development Programme in 2010 to combat poverty and health problems in developing countries. Decreasing the mortality rate for children under five by 2015 to one-third of 1900 levels is among the UNDP goals.
“An estimated 98 percent of children who die of pneumonia live in developing countries. For every child that dies of pneumonia in a developed country, more than 2000 children die for the same reason in developing countries," Ebrashy said during the project's inauguration.
The initiative fits with the organization's mission to elevate the livelihoods of the underprivileged. The association also provides vocational training and career guidance, educational and awareness sessions and loans.
In 2002, the association was founded as a student club at the American University in Cairo to engage young volunteers in charitable development projects.
Since 2003, AYB has replicated in Ain Shams University, Cairo University and the German University in Cairo and has expanded its projects to governorates across the country.