World Pneumonia Day to combat child mortality

If asked to answer what the number one killer disease of children under five was, many would assume AIDS, or an exotic disease such as malaria. Few however, would say pneumonia, and that it takes more lives of children under five annually than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It is for this very reason that two years ago, groups including the WHO and UNICEF joined together to create World Pneumonia Day (12 November 2011), a global campaign designed to create mass awareness among civilians and policymakers in order to battle horrible statistical data surrounding pneumonia.

According to statistics from the WHO, pneumonia claims the lives of 1.5 million children under five every year, meaning that every 20 seconds, a child dies of pneumonia. Of these numbers, 98% live in developing countries, and despite causing almost 20% of all under-5 deaths, pneumonia attracts less than 5% of global health funding.

This year, these statistics have encouraged the Egyptian Medical Students Association NGO (EMSA), registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, to launch the national “Protect Your Child” campaign on World Pneumonia Day 2011.

“Every year in Egypt, 42,000 children under-5 die as a result of pneumonia,” states Dr. Mohamed Zaazoue, coordinator for the campaign.

“Pneumonia is a relatively inexpensive disease to cure, but the biggest problem is that many of these children die simply due to a lack of awareness of the disease and available preventive measures.”

Beginning at Demerdash Hospital, the “Protect Your Child” campaign aims to reach over 5000 parents and 50000 children by using competitions to create awareness throughout Egypt’s biggest hospitals.

While waiting for general checkups for their children, parents will take a multiple choice quiz based on pneumonia-related short stories; in the end however, everyone will win books, with coloring stories for the children and awareness material for the parents.

“The goal is to create communal awareness of the symptoms of pneumonia, among family and friends, as well as shed light on how it can be cured and prevented with simple vaccinations,” continues Zaazoue.

The “Protect Your Child” campaign has been raising money to provide free vaccinations to “high risk candidates,” those who do not even have the means to seek such vaccination.

“When campaign ideas initially began this year, we intended 1000 vaccinations to be given over the course of the next year,” states Zaazoue. “But thanks to generous donations [LE11.5m] in recent months, we will now be able to vaccinate 15,000 candidates, which is nearly half of next year’s death toll.”

The campaign is intended to continue for up to five-years, with alternating awareness and vaccination campaigns, in order to significantly reduce Egyptian pneumonia-related mortality rates.

In order to broaden the scope of the campaign, “Protect Your Child” has also partnered recently with “Save The Children,” an international organization, as well as others, to create the largest coalition against Child Pneumonia in Africa.

“Pneumonia is not only curable, it is also preventable, which makes it an easy fight that is also very implementable,” states Zaazoue.

“We cannot eliminate it altogether, but in 5 years, we can be sure to at least drop the mortality rates in Egypt to that of developed countries where they have simple vaccines and continued awareness.”

One of United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to reduce by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate from 1990 to 2015. Therefore, because pneumonia causes almost 20% of the annual total, reducing pneumonia deaths is essential to this goal, according to THE UNICEF press release.

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