Did you know that the number one killer of children under 5 is Pneumonia? I was thinking about that the other night as I stared at my son in bed in his dark room. He was coughing. A lot. Loud and hard and he could not settle down. He had a fever, too.
Of course, I had flashbacks to 6 months earlier when his lungs sent him to the hospital for 5 days. That wasn’t pneumonia. But it was the flu and it started with just a cough and then a fever, too.
So I stared at him and fed him sips of water and wondered what I should do. Of course, I called the pediatrician 5 minutes before they opened the next morning and kept redialing until someone answered. By lunchtime, we were back from the pediatrician and he had finally settled down with three types of meds (one being antibiotics), a nebulizer and a very effective prescribed combo of lemon, honey and tea. It worked miracles. I knew his respiratory infection could have evolved into something worse, but it hadn’t because we had access to immediate medical care.
We have access.
Yesterday, I sat in on a conference call about World Pneumonia Day. Today is World Pneumonia day, in fact. On the phone were Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ senior health and medical editor, as well as Dr. Orin Levine, with the International Vaccine Access Center. A number of bloggers were on the call and, for an hour, we discussed the dangers of pneumonia in our country and worldwide.
Here’s the thing. Whether you live in a small village in India or whether you live in a comfortable home in the Tampa suburbs, pneumonia can happen to your children. In fact, a child dies from pneumonia every 20 seconds. The doctors on the call agreed that many are surprised that it is the number one killer of children under five. It certainly doesn’t get the recognition that other conditions do. But maybe that’s because it isn’t a huge first world health priority. For every child who dies from pneumonia in the industrialized world, 2,000 more die in developing countries. Why? Children there don’t have access to care and antibiotics.
We have access.
One doctor talked about the work children with pneumonia do just to breathe. He recalled a time in Africa when he held a nine month old baby in his arms who struggled and struggled to catch her breathe but could not. She died minutes later. What could have saved her? Knowledge about respiratory distress and simple antibiotics. Both Dr. Besser and Dr. Levine are working to increase access in these countries. Anyone can be trained to recognize the signs of respiratory distress. And antibiotics are extremely inexpensive to distribute. As dangerous as pneumonia is, it is also one of the most solvable deadly conditions we’re faced with.
I walked away from the conversation far more educated about the extent of this disease. I also sat down and appreciated just what my children have. Their risk of dying from pneumonia is far lower thanks to a pediatrician 10 minutes from my home, $5 antibiotics and basic knowledge about respiratory infections. We have that. So many do not.