Severe pneumonia leaves an estimated 4.2 million children under the age of five in 124 countries with critically low oxygen levels each year, an analysis from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, Clinton Health Access Initiative, Save the Children, and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute revealed.
In a statement Wednesday, they said COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions to health services threaten to be a further blow in the battle against the world’s biggest infectious killer of children, which already claimed the lives of over 800,000 children under the age of five each year.
According to the report, pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid.
Severe pneumonia affects more than 22 million young children in low- and middle-income countries each year and kills more than malaria, measles, and diarrhea combined, it added.
“While the world grapples with the pandemic and the severe consequences it poses for the most vulnerable, we must not lose sight of the fact that pneumonia continues to claim more than 2,000 young lives every day. Medical oxygen can help save some of these lives,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
Medical oxygen could save the lives of many children with severe pneumonia, coupled with antibiotics, these agencies said.
“As the world races to scale up oxygen supply, to save lives from both COVID-19 and pneumonia, it must get to the hardest to reach, be free for everyone and be sustainable. If we focus only on short term fixes, we risk missing a pivotal opportunity to save millions of lives for generations to come,” Save the Children UK CEO Kevin Watkins said.
The report said that poorer countries faced a huge lack of oxygen systems and supplies even before the onset of COVID-19.
“Helping countries establish resilient systems to provide oxygen reliably and efficiently will save lives during this pandemic and treat patients sustainably in the future,” CHAI CEO Dr. Iain Barton said.
The report said following the onset of the pandemic, worsening shortages and rising prices of oxygen have been reported in countries with some of highest numbers of child pneumonia deaths such as India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the poorest countries may currently have just five to 20 percent of the medical oxygen they need, overall.
The global health agencies have called for governments and donors to build on the investment and efforts made to respond to COVID-19 to strengthen health systems that can tackle childhood pneumonia.