Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Majority of the children who were hospitalized with severe pneumonia received treatment for the wrong type of pneumonia. A study that involved nearly 10,000 children in seven African and Asian countries found that children had the viral type and not the bacterial one that many countries, including Uganda, have been immunizing against.
The study named the Pneumonia Etiology Research for Child Health (PERCH) was conducted over a period of two years and involved taking nasal and throat swabs as well as blood, sputum and other fluid samples from cases and tested them for pathogens in the lab.
Speaking to URN this morning, Dr Ombeva Malande, a vaccinologist and paediatrician based at Makerere University said that the findings are a blow because doctors have been prescribing antibiotics for treatment of pneumonia on the basis that the disease is caused by some bacteria.
Antibiotics are ideal for bacterial and mycoplasma pneumonia, according to medics. However, there is no clearly effective treatment for viral pneumonia, which usually resolves on its own.
De Ombeva says that the new finding that 61 per cent of the cases studied were caused by viruses means that researchers need to shift and focus on how to deal with the viruses – Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the flu viruses that have been seen to cause most of the types of pneumonia in children.
Currently, in Uganda, the flu vaccine which can offer protection against viral pneumonia is only available on the private market and for special groups such as children who suffer from asthma, those with heart disease and premature babies. The Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) was put on the immunization schedule in 2014.
Already, vaccines for viral pneumonia are available in the West and South Africa. These, Ombeva says, would be a good addition to Uganda’s schedule especially for Respiratory Syncytial virus-RSV which accounts for the majority cases. He says a phase II trial is ongoing in South Africa and the vaccine might be available in five to six years after undergoing all the four stages of the trial.
He, however, notes that this doesn’t mean that vaccination against bacterial pneumonia with the PCV vaccine should stop but the government should come up with a plan of having both vaccines on the immunization schedule.
Pneumonia remains the leading cause of death among children below 5 years of age worldwide with about 900,000 fatalities and more than 100 million reported cases each year according to World Health Organisation figures. It kills more children than Malaria and diarrhoea which are also ranked high children killers.