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Islamabad: Pneumonia kills the most number of children under the age of five in Pakistan. The statistics are all the more telling when one-fifth of the population in Pakistan falls in this age group.

As World Pneumonia Day (November 12) draws near, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its annual report describing Pakistan the worst-hit country by pneumonia.

“Despite the fact that free vaccination is available in the country, pneumonia is killing as many as 92,000 children annually,” reveal the figures released by WHO on the eve of Pneumonia Day.

According to WHO estimates, pneumonia accounts for 16 per cent of the total child deaths, making it the leading killer of children under five globally.

According to former Head of Paediatrics at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs.

“Children under five with severe cases of pneumonia may struggle to breathe, with their chests moving in or retracting during inhalation (known as “lower chest wall in drawing”). Young infants may suffer convulsions, unconsciousness, hypothermia, lethargy and feeding problem,” he said.

“Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common bacterial causes of pneumonia among children include: Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib),’ said Dr Tabish.

According to Dr Rizwan Qazi, another medical specialist in Pims, between 2000 and 2015, pneumonia mortality rate declined by 51 per cent; however, it is still one of the lowest rates of decline compared to other diseases.

Most pneumonia deaths are concentrated in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — and the proportion of deaths in these regions has continued to rise.

Preventing children from developing pneumonia in the first place is critical to reducing the death toll.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (pneumonia vaccine) was introduced in Pakistan’s EPI programme in 2012, and this achievement made it the first South Asian country to include PCV in its national immunisation programme.

“Proper nutrition, clean drinking water and vaccines are important to fight pneumonia. Vaccines against pneumococcus, Hib, pertussis, and measles can prevent a significant portion of pneumonia cases from ever occurring,” said Dr Rai Muhammad Asghar, president of Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) Centre, and dean of Paediatrics at Rawalpindi Medical University and Allied Hospital, while talking to Gulf News.

He added that preventing pneumonia averts treatment costs; other loses due to illness, and allows children to become healthy, productive adults.

Vaccines hold the promise of saving millions of children from dying of pneumonia.