Every Breath Counts: Fighting Pneumonia in Nigeria
Aisha, 30, with her son Bashir, one, outside their home in a village in Jigawa State, Nigeria. Yagazie Emezi / Save the Children
Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of child death in the world. On average, almost 2,000 children die every day from pneumonia - one child every 45 seconds, and almost all are preventable.
Most of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
By ensuring all children are protected with the PCV and other pneumonia-fighting vaccines, and have access to early and accurate diagnosis and effective treatment with antibiotics, oxygen and therapeutic food, every country can drive child pneumonia deaths down to the levels needed to achieve the SDGs.
This is what the Second Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia that is currently taking place in Madrid wants to achieve.
Dr Adamu Isah is Save the Children’s lead for work on childhood pneumonia in Nigeria – the INSPIRING project. Read his testimony about Bashir, a child from Nigeria, who nearly lost his life to pneumonia.
Dr. Amadu at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Madrid. Sheetal Rahi Lookhar/Save the Children
Bashir’s battle to survive
I want to tell you a story about a family living in Markiba in the northern state of Jigawa in Nigeria who nearly lost their son to pneumonia.
In January of 2022, 9 month-old baby Bashir was having trouble breathing. His mother Aisha remembers it clearly:
“He wasn’t breathing well. His stomach also made some noises and his chest was stiff”.
She was terrified. She had already lost 3 of her 8 children.
Sani, an INSPIRING Community Health Volunteer, happened to be visiting and saw that Bashir was indeed having difficulty breathing. He referred Bashir to the local health clinic in Markiba who sent the family on to a Primary Health Center about 10 minutes away by motorbike.
At the health care centre, Patience Alfred, an INSPIRING Community Mobilization Assistant, saw immediately that Bashir needed urgent medical attention.
The little boy had pneumonia, malaria, anemia and dehydration from a recent episode of diarrhea and malnutrition.
Patience knew the family needed to get as fast as they could to another bigger health centre which was 30 minutes away by car if they wanted to save Bashir’s life. But the family had a problem. They had no money left to pay for transport or the medical fees.
Patience persuaded the center to waive its fees and Aisha and Bashir were able to set off again.
At the Kiyawa hospital, Bashir received the treatment he needed: intravenous antibiotics for pneumonia, an anti-malarial, an IV for dehydration, a blood transfusion for anemia, and therapeutic food for malnutrition.
After five days in the hospital, the family returned home but it took two months for him to fully recover. Sani, the INSPIRING Community Health Volunteer, visited regularly to ensure he was making good progress.
Bashir was a very sick baby. Without parents who were aware and health care workers who acted fast, he wouldn’t have made it.
He would have been another one of the 130,000 Nigerian children under five who lose their lives to pneumonia each year.
Healthworker Yau, 41, examines nine-month-old Bashir at a village health post in Jigawa State, Nigeria. Yagazie Emezi / Save the Children
The importance of vaccines to save lives
Like most Nigerian children, Bashir was not vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine and he had only received one dose of the pentavalent vaccine, which can also prevent pneumonia.
There are many more children like Bashir across Nigeria, and indeed across the world.
We know that most pneumonia deaths can be prevented by vaccination and fast access to accurate diagnosis and treatment.
The INSPIRING project, with support from GSK, has vaccinated over 60,000 children, provided pulse oximeters and oxygen to 24 health facilities, trained over 800 healthcare workers, and supported 340 women’s and men’s groups who meet monthly to learn, plan, and take community action.
Bashir’s father, Mallam Jibrin, was a member of one of the men’s groups. That’s how he knew just how serious his son’s condition was.
I met with Bashir and his family a few weeks ago and I am happy to report that he is healthy and about to turn two!
“We are so grateful to the health workers for enlightening us and for saving the life of our son. May God bless you all.” said Bashir’s parents.