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WHEN Arif Mollah’s three-years-old son Bayejid contracted suffered from pneumonia last year, he initially thought that Bayejid’s difficult breathing was due to a seasonal flu that could be cured through homemade remedies.
As Bayejid’s condition became severe in a matter of three days, a village school teacher advised Arif to take him to the district hospital in Narsingdi. It was at the hospital that Arif learnt that his son had severe pneumonia and that it would not be possible to save the baby if he would have arrived at the hospital a little later.
Like Arif there are tens of thousands of parents who do not know about the disease.
Although pneumonia is a curable disease, it remains one of the major killers of children under five every year. According the 2011 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, (BDHS) 2011 child mortality from pneumonia is 21 percent. 12 children under five die of pneumonia in every 1000 live births .
However, creating awareness among the people and proper guideline to fight the disease can reduce the mortality rate of young children to a great extent, said Professor Mohammod Shahidullah, chairman of the Department of Neonatology, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
In fact, pneumonia is the largest cause of death in children worldwide, he said.
Pneumonia is caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common and serious are bacterial pneumonia that can be prevented with simple antibiotic interventions, he said.
“Ensuring proper nutrition can save many children from pneumonia because undernourished children tend to contract pneumonia easily,” he said.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of birth can provide proper nutrition and can prevent pneumonia as well, said Shahidullah.
He added that immunization against pneumonia, measles and whooping cough is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.
As the children living in the densely populated urban slums are at risk of developing the disease, he said simple practices of good hygiene like washing hands with soap, reducing household air pollution, covering the mouth while coughing and sneezing and refrain from spitting can also prevent pneumonia.
“People should remember that the disease spread via air-borne droplets from cough or sneeze,” he said.
He also advised parents of children under five years to refer to doctors when they have cough, difficult breathing and fever .
Shahidullah informed that the Pneumococcal vaccine that can reduce pneumonia significantly will be introduced in the country through the Health ministry’s efforts in the next year.
There are also the national Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) programme which manages pneumonia in more than 450 Upazila in 50 district with UNICEF support.