In a bid to increase the low level of awareness of pneumonia in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the disease is the biggest killer of children under five, a wide-ranging media campaign has been launched.
Launched on World Pneumonia Day by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the campaign, run in conjunction with the Network of Journalists for Human Rights in CAR, will focus on the disease’s symptoms, how it is spread and can be treated, as well as on the need for behaviour change.
It will also be highlighting the vaccine against pneumonia which is part of the Expanded Programme on Immunization in CAR.
According to UNICEF, 30 percent of deaths among children under five are connected to pneumonia, and the aim, in line with the relevant Millennium Development Goal, is to reduce this by 2015.
Pneumonia is an infectious disease of the lungs caused by bacteria or viruses, and it is difficult for parents and even some health workers to identify because of its resemblance to other pulmonary infections.
Communications director of the Health Ministry Modeste Hoza, told IRIN the disease was “more dangerous than malaria or other diseases such as whooping cough.
“One of the difficulties is that the description of the disease is too medical [technical]. The approach to diagnosis is also too medical, which makes it difficult for parents to detect if their children have pneumonia.”
The difficulty of distinguishing between pneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchitis, whooping cough and other respiratory infections is one of the main causes of the spread of the disease. The best thing for parents or relatives to do, Hoza said, was to take children to hospital as soon as they start coughing or develop a fever. Another sign of the disease is involuntary nose movements.
He added that the disease was also spreading in CAR because of the wrong vaccinations being administered, that is to say some children had not received the series of vaccinations they should have since birth.
"Children with sickle cell disease can also be easily affected by pneumonia. The disease is spreading and becoming more deadly because many people prefer self-medication to laboratory tests.”
Prevention is possible thanks to an existing vaccine, but this vaccine is not known to the public, owing to poor communications: A national vaccination campaign along the lines of the anti-polio drive has never been organized.
"Pneumonia is preventable thanks to the vaccine. Unfortunately, of the 10 vaccination centres in Bangui, barely four are operational throughout the year. Some are only operational perhaps six months a year,” said Hoza.