The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines - If heart attack is the dreaded silent killer among adults, pneumonia can be considered its counterpart among children.
According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children worldwide.
Every year, around 150 million cases of pneumonia among children below 5 years old are recorded worldwide.
Pneumonia, a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs, causes almost 1 out 5 under-five deaths worldwide, according to UNICEF.
In its 2006 report, UNICEF found that pneumonia kills more children than any other disease—more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.
Among five-year-olds in the Philippines, 2 out of every 10 suffer from pneumonia.
One of them is Liezel Cernechez’s 9-months old grandson, Baby Chris, was suffering from cold cough for days. Cernechez suspected that her grandson has pneumonia but could not confirm this since lack of funds kept her from bringing him to the hospital.
“In the Philippines, it’s in the top 10 leading causes of mortality and morbidity of all age group,” said Dr. Anjanette De Leon, a Pediatric Pulmonologist.
With the help of the Journo team, Cernechez was able to bring Baby Chris to the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. After examining him, the doctors confirmed that Baby Chris indeed has moderate distress Pneumonia.
Cernechez blamed herself for what happened to her grandson. She recalled using cold water when she bathed Baby Chris, and said this might be gthe reason he caught pneumonia.
But experts proved her hypothesis false.
“Kasi ang problema is hindi alam ng tao kung ano yung pneumonia. Hindi nila alam kung ano ang nangyayari sa batang may pneumonia, paano gagamutin at saka kung paano ito nakukuha… Edukasyon, kulang pa rin ng tamang kaalaman ng mga magulang at tsaka ng mga tao sa ating paligid,” said Dr. De Leon.
According to WHO, pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Living in Payatas, Quezon City, Baby Chris could have gotten pneumonia from their environment.
“Minsan kasi ang pagkuha ng pneumonia ay droplet infection. So pag nasinghot ng isang bata ang mikrobyo, pwede ito pumunta sa ilong, pumunta sa daanan ng hangin at the same time, pumunta sa ating mga baga para apektuhan upang maging ganap na pneumonia ito,” explained Dr. De Leon.
Baby Chris, who was a premature baby, was an easy target of the respiratory disease. Deepening his vulnerability, he was breastfed for only three months.
“A healthy child has many natural defenses that protect its lungs from the invading pathogens that cause pneumonia. However, children and infants with compromised immune systems have weakened defenses. Undernourished children, particularly those not exclusively breastfed or with inadequate zinc intake, are at higher risk of developing pneumonia,” said the UNICEF report.
Discovered at the start of the century, pneumonia is now considered an old disease, especially in progressive countries where vaccines and antibiotics that fight pneumonia have been invented. But as a third-world country, the Philippines is still struggling to fight the killer disease.
“Ang pneumonia, gaya ng iba pang preventable diseases, ay sumasalamin lamang dun sa kung ano yung economic at social state nung isang community. Dahil ang mahirap na pamayanan ay ibig sabihin, hindi malusog na pamayanan… Ano yung nagiging salik kung bakit mas nagiging vulnerable sila? Yun nga yung kagutuman, kagutuman dahil sa kahirapan,” said Dr. Beng Reyes, Secretary-General of Health Alliance for Democracy.
Almost 5,000 Filipino children die of pneumonia every year. One of the reasons for these deaths, as experts point out, is the parents’ lack of knowledge about the disease.
“Halimbawa kasi sa edukasyon lang; kasi pag may simpleng ubo ka lang, simpleng lagnat, nagse-self-medicate ang marami sa mga caregivers natin o yung mga caretakers natin ng mga pasyente lalo na sa mga bata. Kung ano yung nabibili sa tindahan, kung ano yung pinapayo ng kapitbahay, yun ang ginagamot. At kapag nahihirapan nang huminga ang pasyente, malala na, saka palang dadalhin sa ospital,” Dr. Reyes said.
In 2009, WHO and UNICEF launched the Global Action Plan Against Pneumonia (GAPP), believing that “we can reduce child pneumonia deaths by two-thirds simply by scaling up existing interventions to prevent pneumonia infections, protect children from conditions that increase the risk of pneumonia and treat infections that do occur with life-saving antibiotics.”
The project aimed to save children from pneumonia-caused deaths through vaccines that prevent pneumonia or pneumonia-related illness, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, and antibiotics.
Of the three, breastfeeding is the easier solution in the case of the Philippines, where vaccines and antibiotics are not free.
“Noon kung nasa private clinic lang, o eh di yun lang ang may kayang makaka-afford. Pag ang DOH na ang nagbigay, eh di ibig sabihin libre. Ngayon ang mga tao na lang ngayon ang kailangang sabihan na wag silang magpawalang bahala na kung ang gobyerno natin ay mayroong sinasabing makakapagbigay sila ng bakunang ito, ay i-take advantage nila. At sa lahat ng pagkakataon na makakakuha sila ng bakuna ay gawin nila, di ba?” said Dr. Lulu Bravo, Professor in Pediatrics at the University of the Philippines-Manila College of Medicine.
But the Department of Health is expecting to receive free vaccines this year, for delivery to barangay health centers nationwide. This is part of the P3.7- billion fund of the Health department for infectious diseases, such as pneumonia. But Dr. Reyes believes that this would still be insufficient to address the problem.
“Sa ngayon kasi napakaliit na porsyento nung budget ng health ang nilaan for the promotion of health and prevention of diseases… mga programa na bagamat sinasabi ng gobyerno na ito daw ang magso-solve ng malaking problema natin, may mga immediate problems kagaya ng pneumonia na dapat pagbuhusan nila ng pinaka-immediate na pondo para sa mga mas effective na program,” said Dr. Reyes.
For a more comprehensive discussion about pneumonia, watch the replay of Journo tonight, 7:30pm on AksyonTV.