Pneumonia still children's leading killer disease

Kenya is still grappling with a surge in pneumonia deaths among children.

According to the Ministry of Health, approximately one in five child deaths is attributed to pneumonia, resulting in an annual toll ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 deaths.

The Ministry has highlighted that pneumonia accounts for at least 15 per cent of all child mortalities in the country, ranking it ahead of diarrhoea, malaria, HIV, and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

Highest cases

Pneumonia, a form of acute respiratory infection affecting the lungs, is caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Kenya is among the top 15 countries globally with the highest cases of premature deaths.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, about 14 percent of all deaths of children under five succumbed to pneumonia worldwide, contributing to over 700,000 deaths annually.

“Pneumonia affects all ages, but children are the most vulnerable,” said Dr Roselyne Malangachi, a consultant paediatrician at the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital.

She added: “Despite vaccination, our babies still die of pneumonia.” The medic said pneumonia symptoms, such as cough, difficulty in breathing, chest pains, fatigue, a fast heartbeat, vomiting, and loss of appetite, are similar to those of a cold and flu.

“Parents should always seek immediate medical attention when they notice signs and symptoms of any respiratory infections to prevent them from progressing from non-severe to severe pneumonia, a major cause of death in children,” said Malangachi.

Dr Roseline Malangachi, a consultant paediatrician at Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital on October 30, 2023. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Reducing infections

“Good personal hygiene, exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months, handwashing, and using clean cooking fuel reduce the incidence of respiratory infections that lead to pneumonia,” added Dr Malangachi.

She further explained, “Breast milk contains numerous antibodies that the baby receives from the mother, minimising the occurrence of pneumonia. Cook with clean fuel only and avoid using jikos and kerosene unless in a well-ventilated area.”

The medical expert urged parents to ensure their children are vaccinated at weeks six, 10, and 14 after birth. “Recommended vaccines include the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), the Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, and the influenza vaccine.”

According to Dr Boniface Nyumbile, a paediatrician at the Kakamega referral hospital, the main risk factors for pneumonia include air pollution.