Originally published in blogs.unicef.org on 12 November, 2014 by
Pneumonia is the world’s number one cause of preventable death among children under five years old. Every year, pneumonia kills nearly one million children – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. What makes this number of pneumonia deaths so unfathomable is that its cure is well-known, inexpensive and widely available.
Amoxicillin has long been held as a basic, effective antibiotic treatment for bacterial pneumonia, believed to account for 80% of pneumonia deaths among children. Even if children live in places where there is no doctor or clinic, amoxicillin can be obtained through a community health worker. If amoxicillin can cure bacterial pneumonia, why does pneumonia continue to claim so many young lives?
For families who live too far away from or are too poor to access health centres and lab tests, community health workers are their first point of contact – and sometimes the only lifeline – when their children fall sick. Community health worker are not highly trained medical professionals. They are men and women from the same community who often work as volunteers and, equipped with only basic knowledge and rudimentary supplies, provide front line health care.
They often work in places where pneumonia is one among many other endemic diseases. Malaria and pneumonia have very similar symptoms in a sick child. Distinguishing the cause of illness can be very tricky. A mistaken diagnosis can result in mistaken decisions on the treatment. In the case of pneumonia, the numbers tell us that the consequences of such a chain of events contribute to catastrophic consequences for children under five.
But what does a community health worker need to navigate safely to ‘Correct Diagnosis’?