New Delhi: Under an oxygen hood, four-month-old Yogesh struggles to breathe. He has pneumonia and has been admitted to the small emergency ward at Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital in Delhi. In the same ward, another baby, Pavitra, has been diagnosed with pneumonia.
“She’s malnourished and was not breastfed by her mother,” said Dr Naveen Kumar, Paediatric Consultant.
The risk of pneumonia is driven by malnutrition, lack of breastfeeding and crowded living conditions. At least 40 per cent of the children admitted at Lal Bahadur Shastri hospital are suffering from pneumonia and its complications.
India accounts for 20 per cent of deaths of children under-5 due to pneumonia across the world.
The government has now introduced the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) to prevent meningitis, middle ear infections and pneumococcal disease. The vaccine will be part of the Centre’s immunisation programme for the first time.
Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of deaths among children under the age of 5 years and the vaccine aims to bring down child mortality and morbidity.
“The introduction of the vaccine is a matter of pride for the Union Government,” said Anupriya Patel, Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare. We have made a commitment that we will not let any child die of a vaccine preventable disease.
Although this vaccine was available in the private sector, it was not affordable to a large section of the Indian population.
“Three doses are required by a child at the age of six weeks, 14 weeks and then nine months. Every dose costs approximately Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000, which, if we put together, costs Rs 12,000 for a vaccine for a child which is not affordable to an Indian couple,” said Ms Patel.
In the first phase, the vaccine will be available in Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The vaccine will be taken to other parts of the country in a phased manner.
Dr Sunil Mehra, Executive Director, Mamta, Health Institute for Mother and Child, welcomes the vaccine.
“Vaccines are just one component. Breastfeeding is as important as is complementary nutrition, safe drinking water and good sewage system. They all contribute as much to child health,” said Dr Mehra.
According to National Family Health Survey III, one in four babies are initiated early for breastfeeding – within the first hour of birth- and fewer than half are exclusively breastfed up to six months.
Another challenge is the coverage of the immunisation programme which is 65 per cent in some states. The health system has to reach the unreached households where the most pneumonia deaths take place.