A mother’s reflection on World Pneumonia Day

This blog was written by Christina Gillett

I asked the room to breathe together, as though we were doing a relaxation exercise, talking them through inhalations and exhalations. We sped up until everyone was panting short rapid breaths – the sort that automatically make you feel panicky. As the tension rose in the room I called “exhale” for the last time and asked, “are you worn out yet?”.

I could see people wanted to laugh, to diffuse the tension, but at the same time they wanted to cry. We were in Parliament to launch a campaign to prevent child deaths from pneumonia – we’d already heard previous speakers including the Secretary of State talking about the new report Fighting for Breath: A call to action on childhood pneumonia. This is how fast children with pneumonia breathe. Often it’s the exhaustion that kills them.

Jedidah

Just before my turn to take the podium, we’d watched a film and live link-up with Jedidah, a Save the Children Emergency Health Officer in Kenya. She described the best days where she saves the life of a child with pneumonia, and the worst days, where they die.

When every day brings a child with pneumonia and every other day a case so severe that it has to be immediately referred… I wonder how she keeps going, but then how can she stop?

When she’s fighting to save a child, she told us, she hears their voice in her head begging her to give them another chance at life.

A disease of poverty

I thought about my own son, barely two, older than some who die and younger than others. I would do anything in my power to keep him safe.

With pneumonia being the single biggest infectious killer of children under five, and most of those children living in developing countries where the outcome is much more likely to be death, I can’t help but think of the mothers for whom it is not at all within their power to keep their children alive. It is barely within the power of knowledgeable and passionate health professionals like Jedidah.

This isn’t because we don’t have the medical knowledge to tackle a disease like pneumonia. It is highly preventable and relatively simple to treat. But two children under five die from pneumonia every minute.

It absolutely could and should be within the power of those mothers and health professionals to save these babies.

But they need vaccinations and antibiotics, and they need help to avoid the undernutrition that increases susceptibility to pneumonia in the first place. Pneumonia is a disease of poverty. This injustice must be stopped.

It could be my son

In the video we saw a tiny little body that in another life could be my son, convulsing with rapid agonising breaths. Many of those affected are babies, so young that they are unable to communicate what they are going through. But we know it is agonising and terrifying, and we know that many of them die when they don’t need to.

I couldn’t then get up and say my planned piece about being a Campaigns Champion. Instead I had to talk about Jedidah and those little babies and their parents, and hope that there are enough people who find this as unbearable as me, to make sure that the global community unites to stop children dying unnecessarily from pneumonia.

We’ve all got a role to play. Join the fight to end preventable child deaths from pneumonia.

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