Health & Fitness

Lung disease burden hits children under five

Respiratory disorders are the leading cause of ailments in children below five years. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Respiratory disorders are the leading cause of ailments in children below five years. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Respiratory disorders are the leading cause of ailments in children below five years, new data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

More than 4.1 million cases of diseases affecting the respiratory system were reported among this age group across the 47 counties. About 613,777 pneumonia cases and 85,890 asthma incidents were treated. In addition, 3.5 million cases of the other diseases of the respiratory system including tuberculosis and influenza were recorded.

Malaria and diarrheal diseases also caused a great burden on the health system after 1.59 million and 1.47 million cases were reported at health facilities, respectively. Additionally, more than one million cases of skin diseases were recorded, an indicator of its prevalence amongst infants.

The cases of the top ailments in infants are expected to drop significantly as the government reaches out to the 22,000 children that are not immunised against pneumonia every year. Later in the year, the Health ministry plans to introduce a malaria vaccine to curb high death rates linked to the disease.

Pneumonia — a form of acute respiratory infection that affects lungs — is the number one killer of children under the age of five, and accounts for 16 per cent of deaths in Kenya and 18 per cent globally.

Data from Unicef shows that 60 per cent of the more than 1.2 million pneumonia deaths in under-five-year-olds globally occurs in 10 countries — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Bangladesh, DR Congo, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Nigeria and Pakistan. About 19,000 Kenyan children die every year from pneumonia.

Cases of pneumonia deaths are, however, set to go down significantly following the introduction of Amoxicillin dispersible tablets (Amoxyl DT) — a cheaper and more effective option — into the local market offering relief to families facing huge costs to treat the disease.

“Amoxyl DT has a more convenient dosing schedule as it is administered only two times a day compared to the syrup — four times a day — thus encouraging better compliance. It is also pain-free and reduces general health costs as there is no need for injection syringes,” said Dr Warfa Osman, head of the neonatal, child and adolescent health unit at the Health ministry, in an earlier interview.

Globally, diarrhoea and malaria are the other leading causes of under-five child mortality. It is estimated that 760,000 children die annually from diarrhoeal diseases around the world, where 10 nations, Kenya included, account for 60 per cent of the cases.

Kenya is also set to include the malaria vaccine, RTS,S or Mosquirix, designed for children, in its routine immunisation programme, a move set to reduce the disease burden and mortality rate.

Last year, the World Health Organisation picked Kenya, Malawi and Ghana to be the first countries to introduce the malaria vaccine owing to the effort the countries have made in the fight against malaria and existing policy measures put in place.

The first vaccine will be administered to infants at five months while the second and third will be given at monthly intervals.