Pneumonia in India accounts for 20 percent of the deaths worldwide caused by pneumonia. Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection which affects the lungs. It causes difficulty in breathing and limits oxygen intake. It can be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses and is a contagious disease.

Pneumonia symptoms include a cough, difficulty in breathing, fast breathing or wheezing. Infants may experience an inability to feed or drink, unconsciousness or convulsions, or worse. Pneumonia is the largest infectious cause of death among children in the world.

India has the highest number of deaths by pneumonia and diarrhea among children. Pneumonia in India in children under five is caused by malnutrition, low birth weight, non-exclusive breastfeeding, lack of measles immunization, indoor air pollution and overcrowding.

Pneumonia in India can be fatal to all, but is especially dangerous to young children. According to the  World Health Organization (WHO), one in three deaths in India is caused by pneumonia. Pneumonia in India is the leading cause of infant deaths. Every year almost 200,000 children under five die of pneumonia in India. On a global level, pneumonia kills around 900,000 children in the world every year.

In 2016, India managed to achieve improvement of 7 percentage points in the GAPPD score. The GAPPD score measures the use of interventions that protect, treat and prevent phenomena and diarrhea. India’s 2016 score was 41 percent, a major improvement achieved by improving exclusive breastfeeding rates and the Hib vaccine, but well short of its target score of 86 percent.

A new vaccine to protect children was introduced in India this year as part of the Universal Immunization Program. Called the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), this new vaccine will be available to children who need it, especially the underprivileged. Millions of children will receive the vaccine for free. The vaccine protects children from pneumococcal diseases like pneumonia and meningitis.

The aim of this vaccine is to reduce the death of children from pneumococcal pneumonia. “No child should die from the vaccine-preventable disease,” said the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in India.

To fight pneumonia, a threefold strategy needs to be incorporated:

  1. Protection: Exclusive breastfeeding for six months, vitamin A and zinc supplementation and adequate nutrition
  2. Prevention via vaccination: Pneumococcus, HIV Protection, promotion of washing and hygiene, reduction of indoor air pollution
  3. Treatment: improving care-seeking behavior, community case management and health facility case management

India has taken significant initiatives to fight against this disease. Through implementing this threefold strategy, overcoming pneumonia in India is hopeful.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr