Targeting children under the age of five, adults at 65 or above years of ages and smokers, pneumonia is prevailing in Pakistan and reaching daunting rates. Studies reveal that pneumonia is the second prime cause of child death in Pakistan. Children within 2-6 months of their age are affected by pneumonia and based on the severity of condition, most of them lose their battle of life. Apart from being physically challenging for the patient, pneumonia poses financial, economic and emotional burden on the affected and his family. Statistics reveal that approximately 10 million cases of pneumonia are registered each year. When we talk about 10 million lives it is 10 million families battling to save the life of their loved ones.
Before commencing on the ways in which we can defeat this disease, it is crucial to have a deep insight on pneumonia itself.
What exactly is pneumonia?
It is a lung infection involving the inflammation of the alveolar sacs within lungs. These air sacs can be filled with pus or fluid making it difficult to breathe. Some common symptoms associated with pneumonia are cough, fever, breathlessness, fatigue, loss of appetite and chills. The initial symptoms are mild but worsen in intensity as days pass. These symptoms also by age and different levels of symptoms can be seen in young and adult. It’s contagious nature makes it a threat for people around the infected person as it spreads via air inhalation.
Several types of pneumonia exist depending on the cause of their occurrence. Some major types are listed below:
1. Bacterial Pneumonia
Bacterial pneumonia is caused by numerous bacteria but Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause. It usually affects the patients who already have a compromised immune system. This makes it easier for bacteria to make its way to the lungs. Bacterial induced pneumonia can lead to sepsis (severe response to an infection in body), respiratory failure (unstable oxygen and carbon dioxide levels), lung abscess (formation of pus) and empyema.
2. Viral Pneumonia
Respiratory viruses are major players in causing virus induced pneumonia. Viral pneumonia contributes to approximately a third of total pneumonia cases. Influenza virus (flu), Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Rhinoviruses (common cold) are a few examples. Although severity of infection varies, but comparatively a patient suffering from viral pneumonia is able to recover within few weeks.
3. Hospital acquired Pneumonia
Else known as nosocomial pneumonia, hospital acquired pneumonia infects a person when he/she spends few days in hospital. Generally, it is a milder respiratory infection, however in certain cases it can prove to be fatal as well. Mostly people who use a respirator are more prone to this type of pneumonia.
4. Aspiration Pneumonia
The prime source of this pneumonia is the inhalation of pathogens from sources such as food, saliva or other substances. If a person accidently inhales the food rather than properly swallowing it, it might lead to aspiration pneumonia provided that pathogens are inhaled. In healthy individuals, lungs clear out the pathogens by producing a cough reflex. People with weak lungs or compromised immune systems are affected more adversely. No specific age group is associated with this pneumonia as any individual can get infected.
5. Fungal Pneumonia
Fungal pneumonia is caused by endemic, opportunistic or both types of fungi. The basic mode of action is the inhalation of fungal spores or reactivation of dormant infection in body. People with a weak immune system are susceptible to fungal pneumonia. Some examples of endemic fungi include Histoplasma capsulatum and Coccidioides immitis.
The escalated numbers in pneumonia cases lead us to a question: Why is pneumonia pervasive in Pakistan? A number of factors underly the existence of pneumonia throughout these years as mentioned below.
|Factors contributing to pneumonia prevalence in Pakistan|
|1. Regular smoking|
|2. Living in overcrowded areas|
|3. Indoor air pollution|
|4. Resistance of antibiotics|
|5. Lack of awareness|
|6. Chronic diseases|
How to prevent the spead?
Though pneumonia is not foreign to one’s ears but its ever rising prevalence needs to be ceased. A collaborative effort and determination are essential to expiate this medical condition from the population and prevent further deaths. Locals and government must step up and draft out implementable ways to reduce the impact of pneumonia in Pakistan.
Firstly, complete medical knowledge must be provided to parents of a newborn with a detailed description on vaccination course for the child as pneumonia kills a substantial number of infants each year. Stating facts about the pneumonia caused death rates in children and informing about the potential complication children might face if not timely vaccinated, will stir a wave of concern in parents and will mobilize them about medical follow ups and routine checkups.
Secondly, it is cardinal for children to have enough nutrients and access to clean water and food supplies. Especially to families living below the poverty lines with bare minimum resources and facilities, it is essential to provide children with the nourishment their growing bodies need. In such instances, government or non-profit organizations should strive to ensure food and water supply to people who cannot afford it. In view with the current inflammation in Pakistan accompanied by Covid-19 pandemic, situation is getting worse with each passing day. With loss of jobs and large families to feed, vaccinations and medical assistance becomes a challenge. Thus, it is the duty of government and of those who are financially stable to help out such families.
Thirdly, awareness and education about the subject is paramount. With a significant population of Pakistan residing in rural areas, the access of vaccination centers and medical facilities must be extended. Stress must be put upon the importance of building a nourishing and healthy environment for children.
Fourthly, adults who are regular smokers should realize the damage smoking poses to several health-related conditions that can lead them to death. Anti-smoking advertisements are ineffective unless practical implementation is carried out. The sale of cigarettes and other drugs must be banned and strictly monitored. To prevent a problem from accelerating, obliterating its root cause is the best solution.
Constituting about 16% of the total child deaths as stated by World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia is killing children right in front of us. Eradicating the causes of pneumonia rather than treating its symptoms is the best approach to prevent large scale deaths. We must not let our children suffer for out in competencies.
An aspiring geneticist completing her undergraduate at NUST.