Pakistan witnesses surge in child pneumonia cases amid prevailing smog, cold wave

Parents wait with their child suffering from pneumonia, at the Children’s Hospital in Lahore on January 31, 2024. — AFP

As Pakistanis battle with the prevailing cold wave along with smog, the country has witnessed a significant surge in pneumonia cases affecting children the most.

With more than 18,000 pneumonia cases and 300 deaths reported in January alone, Punjab — Pakistan’s most populated province — has been gripped with the disease spread owing to dry and cold winters increasing children’s vulnerability to respiratory infection.

The development comes as the provincial government extended school holidays, clipped classroom hours and mandated face masks in a bid to shield children. Nevertheless, the Children’s Hospital in Lahore has admitted hundreds of cases every day.

Despite offering free vaccination for respiratory disease at six, 10 and 14 weeks of age, the country has long grappled with the challenge of increasing vaccine uptake in a nation where misinformation is rife with some even declaring it un-Islamic.

Director of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Awan has urged parents to ensure the administration of the complete course of vaccines to children under the age of two.

However, Awan said that the available vaccines were not quite effective in the prevailing viral pneumonia. Detailing the available stocks, Dr Mukhtar clarified that there is a sufficient stock of pneumonia immunisation vaccines that could be administered to both children and adults.

“Pneumonia vaccines are not available in the local market, whereas, no one can import these vaccines in Pakistan without the prior permission of the government. The government imports immunisation vaccines from foreign countries only for children,” the EPI director said.

Premature births and stunting caused by malnutrition are also prevalent, weakening children who are then easy prey for pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Unicef has said that roughly half of childhood pneumonia fatalities are associated with air pollution.

In December 2023, the pneumonia outbreak was reported by Geo News, highlighting the large number of patients with chronic conditions and children falling prey to lung infection and other respiratory diseases due to weak immunity with the advent of the winter.

Health experts also warned of an acute rise in pneumonia cases among elderly people and children. They suggested plenty of rest, warm beverages, steam baths, or humidifiers in houses for air moisture and timely consultations with doctors.

Pakistan is among 13 countries across the globe where pneumonia spreads every year.

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