In the ever crowded city of Mumbai, pneumonia seems to be taking a toll on its residents. According to Dr Deepak Ugra, leading paediatrician and former head of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, pneumonia is the biggest killer of Indian children. He says that Mumbai’s slum kids would be more susceptible to the disease because of the cramped living spaces combined with unhygienic conditions.

Although this may sound like a grim reminder of the city’s ever growing population, the statistics are much lower today, as compared to 10 years back. Official statistics state that in 2011, globally, around 7 million children below the age of 5 died from preventable causes. Correspondingly, 20 years ago the toll was as high as 20 million children. As of 1995, the death toll in India has fallen from 100 children dying for every 1,000 live births to 60 deaths in 2010. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, have set up the Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD). This plan is meant to reduce the existing death rates drastically by 2025.

According to their statistics, the WHO and UNICEF say that if they commit to ensuring that 80% of the world’s children have access to targeted interventions, and if 90% of the children were immunized, it would almost completely eradicate conditions such as diarrhoea and pneumonia by the year 2025. The WHO action plan is along the lines of public campaigns to eliminate ailments such as small pox, vitamin-deficiency diseases like blindness and bone diseases.

Dr R S Ghosh, director of NGO PATH, is currently working with the Indian Government to reduce diarrhoeal deaths. Dr R S Ghosh said that the WHO has outlined a 15 point roadmap to reduce the number of deaths. The map includes access to medicines and vaccines as well as better sanitisation and easier access to healthcare. He said that a  number of public health communities around the world, were waiting for just this type of agenda by the WHO.

With the rest of the healthcare community lauding the efforts of the WHO, Rathod of JJ hospital says that, the plan may be foolhardy. He says that only a few pathogens that cause pneumonia can be curbed using a vaccine, the others cannot be stopped. He says that detection and early treatment of the condition should be the key.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an illness of the lungs and respiratory system in which the alveoli (microscopic air-filled sacs of the lung responsible for absorbing oxygen from the atmosphere) become inflamed and flooded with fluid. Pneumonia can result from a variety of causes , including infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Pneumonia may also occur from chemical or physical injury to the lungs, or indirectly due to another medical illness, such as lung cancer or alcohol abuse.