Participants at the roundtable organised by Save the Children, UNICEF and Prothom Alo on World Pneumonia Day
Participants at the roundtable organised by Save the Children, UNICEF and Prothom Alo on World Pneumonia Day

Pulse oximeter and oxygen facilities must be available at an upazila level to ensure treatment of pneumonia or coronavirus patients. The patients must be treated in time. If all this can be ensured, then it will be possible to lower the number of pneumonia-related infant deaths.

These observations were made by speakers on Tuesday evening at a roundtable on ‘World Pneumonia Day: Bangladesh Context,’ organised by Save the Children, UNICEF and Prothom Alo. Physicians and representatives of partner development agencies participated in the discussion.

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Chairman of the neonatology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medial University and president of the national technical advisor committee for COVID-19, Mohammod Shahidullah, said that around 12,000 infants died of pneumonia in 2018 in the country. Pointing out that there was still serious lackings concerning pneumonia, he said, “Not a single child should have pneumonia or coronavirus. And even if the infant does contract pneumonia or coronavirus, it should not die. If integrated management of childhood illnesses (IMCI), immunization, etc can be maintained, it will be possible to significantly reduce the number of pneumonia deaths.”

Coronavirus has brought forward the seriousness of pneumonia once again. We are all trying to ensure that every child receives preventive healthcare
Anne Detjen, Child and Community Health Unit, Health Section, UNICEF Global office

Mohammod Shahidullah went on to say that hospitals should be prepared so that patients are treated for pneumonia as soon as they arrive. Pulse oxymeter and oxygen should be readily available at an upazila level. Larger hospitals should have liquid oxygen tank facilities. He also said that if the World Health Organisation’s guidelines were properly followed at a local level, it would be possible to prevent pneumonia.

Chief of Health, UNICEF Bangladesh, Maya Vandenant, stressed the need for adequate oxygen supply and the use of oxymeters. She said coronavirus is a global crisis, but there is an opportunity to develop oxygen management in this crisis. There is need for oxygen supply both for coronavirus and pneumonia. She emphasized the need to ensure the use of oxymeters at a local level.

Maya Vandenant said that at the upazila level there should at least be oxygen cylinder facilities. And more extensive oxygen facilities should be ensured at the district level hospitals and medical college hospitals. She said that UNICEF was working with the government of Bangladesh in this regard.

Alyssa Om’Iniabohs, Global Project Lead, Pneumonia Centenary Commitment, Save the Children, also stressed the need for an adequate oxygen supply. She said pneumonia was one of the major causes of infant deaths. It was essential for the government to have policy assistance and fund allocation to prevent pneumonia. The success of other countries in this regard could be studied. She said Save the Children would continue to help Bangladesh tackle pneumonia.

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Anne Detjen, Child and Community Health Unit, Health Section, UNICEF Global office, said, “Coronavirus has brought forward the seriousness of pneumonia once again. We are all trying to ensure that every child receives preventive healthcare.”

Only around 5 per cent of the medical centres in Bangladesh were properly prepared to treat children
Shams El Arifeen, senior director, icddr,b

She said taking healthcare to people’s doorsteps was not enough, it was necessary to provide quality healthcare. She called for attention to be paid to nutrition and an environment conducive to preventing pneumonia. Bangladesh is improving in its prevention of pneumonia, she added.

Director, child health, Save the Children, Salim Sadruddin, said Bangladesh adopted WHO’s pneumonia guidelines after five years. Even so, children were not benefitting much from it. Its implementation was limited. Many children could have benefitted if it would have been adopted immediately.

Salim Sadruddin said there was still a lacking in IMCI at a district level. This required adequate medicine supply, training and improved monitoring, he added.

Shams El Arifeen, Senior Director, icddr,b, said many children with pneumonia are still not taken to hospital. Many die before they are taken to hospital. He said this was because the parents did not have confidence in the hospitals. This problem has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, he said, adding that less people were now going to the hospitals.

Only around 5 per cent of the medical centres in Bangladesh were properly prepared to treat children, Shams El Arifeen said. He said, alongside oxygen supply, there must be proper facilities to provide the patients with treatment and care. They must be given proper medical treatment in time.

Child healthcare was seriously affected at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, said Md Shamsul Haque, Line Director, MNCAH, Directorate General of Health Services. He said it was worst in April and May when around 9 per cent of the permanent immunization centres and 38 per cent of the temporary immunization centres had stopped providing immunization services. Highlighting various measures undertaken by the government, he said the situation gradually began to improve. The Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) began to grow and by the end of this year it will be successful, he said.

Risal Bandana, Deputy Country Director, Save the Children in Bangladesh, said infant deaths due to pneumonia were gradually decreasing, but there was more to do in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The IMCI, EPI and nutrition programmes had to be strengthened. Risal Bandana highlighted the various programmes taken up by Save the Children to reduce child deaths caused by pneumonia. She emphasised the need to follow global models in this regard.

The roundtable was moderated by Prothom Alo’s assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.