The United Nations Children’s Fund said on Wednesday that two million children will die of pneumonia in Nigeria in the next 10 years unless more is done to fight the dreaded diseases.
UNICEF in a statement in Birnin Kebbi by its Communication, Advocacy and Partnership Specialist, Malam Rabiu Musa, said malnutrition, air pollution and lack of access to vaccines and antibiotics were among the drivers of preventable deaths from pneumonia, which killed a child every three minutes in the country.
The statement said: “Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid.
“The disease is the leading killer of children in Nigeria, causing 19 percent of under-five deaths, which can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics.
“However, more than 40 per cent of one-year-olds in Nigeria are unvaccinated, and three in four children suffering from pneumonia symptoms do not get access to medical treatment.”
The organisation described the expected two million deaths as “disturbing”, being the highest trend over any country in the world and representing more than 20 per cent of childhood deaths from pneumonia globally.
According to UNICEF, boosting efforts to fight pneumonia could avert over two million child deaths from pneumonia and other major diseases in Nigeria.
It said: “An estimated 809,000 of these deaths would be averted by significantly scaling up services to prevent and treat pneumonia.
“Researchers also found that boosting pneumonia services will create an additional ‘ripple effect’, preventing 1.2 million extra child deaths from other major childhood diseases at the same time.
“Interventions like improving nutrition, increasing vaccine coverage or boosting breastfeeding rates are key measures that reduce the risk of children dying from pneumonia.
“It will also stop thousands of child deaths from diseases like diarrhoea that kills 580,000 children, meningitis 68,000, measles 55,000 and malaria 4,000 children.”
UNICEF added that by 2030, that effect would be so large that pneumonia interventions alone would avert over two million under-five child deaths in Nigeria from all causes combined.
UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria said: “We have a responsibility to do all we can to avert these deaths by pneumonia that could be prevented with concerted action by all players.
“The announcement by the Nigerian government of the world’s first-ever pneumonia control strategy, coupled with the global focus on combatting pneumonia, is a huge step forward.
“We now need to follow this with concrete action on the ground to address the causes and drivers of childhood pneumonia deaths in this country.”
The organisation added that nine leading health and children’s organisations are hosting world leaders at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia, holding from January 29 to 31 in Barcelona.
This is the first international conference on childhood pneumonia.
The organisations include IS Global, Save the Children, UNICEF, Every Breath Counts, ”la Caixa” Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, Unitaid and Gavi, and the Vaccine Alliance.