Abuja — A leading child rights organisation, Save the Children, has revealed that pneumonia claimed the lives of 162,000 children below the age of five in Nigeria in 2018.
According to the organisation, Nigeria ranked second behind India, which with 227,000 pneumonia infant mortality rate, tops the global chart.
It identified pneumonia, caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and which leaves children fighting for breath with their lungs filled with pus and fluid, as the leading killer of children in Nigeria, causing 19 per cent of under-five deaths.
The Chief Executive of Save the Children, UK, Kevin Watkins, while addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja to commemorate this year's World Pneumonia Day 2019, called on the federal government to urgently commit new resources to tackling the deadly disease.
He stated: "Globally, 802,000 children under the age of five died from pneumonia in 2018, more than from any other disease. By comparison, 437,000 children under five died due to diarrhoea and 272,000 to malaria.
"Just five countries were responsible for more than half of child pneumonia deaths: Nigeria 162,000; India 227,000; Pakistan 58,000; the Democratic Republic of Congo, 40,000 and Ethiopia 37,000."
Watkins said a new analysis showed that pneumonia claimed 2,000 children under the age of five last year, or one child every three minutes.
He explained that children with immune systems weakened by other infections or by malnutrition and those living in areas with high level of air pollution and unsafe water, were at far greater risk.
Watkins added that recent analysis found out that Nigerian children born in the poorest households were nearly three times more likely to die from diseases like pneumonia before their fifth birthday, compared to those born to the rich.
He noted that the picture is starkest in Zamfara, where children are five times as likely to die before the age of five, compared to children from Kwara.
Watkins said most pneumonia deaths could be prevented with vaccines and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics, such as Amoxicillin DT.
He, however, lamented that millions of children are at risk of not celebrating their fifth birthday as more than 40 per cent of one-year-olds in Nigeria are unvaccinated and three in four children suffering from pneumonia symptoms do not get access to medical treatment.
He urged the federal government, the United Nations, multilateral agencies, companies and non- governmental organisations to join forces to fight pneumonia and protect these children.
"This is a forgotten global health epidemic that demands a greater international response. Millions of children are dying for want of vaccines, affordable antibiotics, and routine oxygen treatment. The pneumonia crisis is a symptom of neglect and indefensible inequalities in access to health care," he added.
On her part, Save the Children Country Director, Deirdre Keogh, said the organisation was collaborating with the Every Breath Counts (EBC) Coalition, and had supported the federal government in the development of the National Integrated Pneumonia Control Strategy, stressing that it is an important step in addressing pneumonia.
Also, Save the Children UK Ambassador, Florence Otedola, Also Known as DJ Cuppy, said Nigeria spent just $10 per person on health care in 2015, which she said was far below the $86 minimum level recommended by the World Health Organisation.
"We can all do our part in making sure the children of Nigeria do not die from pneumonia. lnvite us to come together and invest in providing treatment to every last child who deserves to survive this preventable disease."