About 30,000 children under five in Afghanistan die because of pneumonia and it is estimated that about 150,000 children are affected by it each year, according to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.
Although pneumonia can affect anyone anywhere, it is more prevalent and usually more serious in the very young, the very old and anyone weakened by long-term illness. Also, its occurrence increases in cold weather.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an inflammation of one or both the lungs. It can be caused by different micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites.
Infection usually occurs when the patient breathes in the micro-organisms that are present in the air, especially if someone nearby has an infection and is coughing or sneezing.
What are the symptoms?
People with pneumonia usually have shivering fits, fever, pain in the chest, a cough and difficulty in breathing. These symptoms are similar to flu, but people with pneumonia nearly always have a cough.
The cough is dry at first, but soon the patient starts to cough up phlegm. Breathing is typically fast and shallow. The infected person may gasp for air and his lips and fingernails may turn a blue colour. It hurts to breathe in deeply or cough. Cold sores around the mouth may also appear.
If you catch a cold that doesn’t seem to go away, or you recognise the symptoms mentioned above, it is important to seek medical advice quickly.
How can pneumonia be treated?
Treatment depends on the cause of pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia, the most common type of the disease, is treated with antibiotics. Apart from that, other support may be necessary, such as cough medicines and painkillers.
Most people with pneumonia can be treated as outpatients at home, but some may need hospitalisation.
Can anything be done to prevent pneumonia?
Dress up warmly in cold weather to avoid catching flu. Flu can lead to pneumonia, especially in the old and unwell. Hand washing is one of the most important ways of preventing the spread of germs that cause conditions such as colds, flu and pneumonia. Stop smoking! Smokers are at increased risk of pneumonia, as are their children.
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has recently announced the introduction of lifesaving Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) for infants below one year of age. The vaccine will be available for free at all health facilities.
A joint statement by the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said they would introduce PCV into the routine expanded programme on immunisation with support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
The international community and the Afghan government have jointly funded the vaccine.