“These children deserve a chance to live”
On the frontline of the fight against pneumonia

Jedidah’s one of life’s heroes. She’s battled pneumonia in her professional and personal lives and arrives for work early every day as our Emergency Health Officer in Turkana, Kenya…

Why work in healthcare?

“I lost my sister, and I felt if I had been a nurse, her life could have been saved. I was still young, but that was my dream that one day I would make sure at least I save a life.

“Save the Children is child focused and because I am very compassionate about children, I feel it is the right place for me.

Are there sacrifices?

“I have a daughter and twin sons who are two and a half. They live with their father in Nairobi. I get to see them every two months… I miss them a lot.

“Once a life is saved due to my interventions, I feel it is a worthy sacrifice!”

With pneumonia it’s personal

“As a mother I have had a very bad experience with pneumonia. My twins have had pneumonia three times and it was very sudden, the attack was very acute.

“The very last time my first-born twin developed a severe form of pneumonia… he was on oxygen in a hospital in Nairobi for two weeks…we were almost sure we were losing him.

But I thank God that just when we were losing hope he started picking up with his breathing.

“So my child, yes he recovered, but he gets sick quite often and is weaker… very slow in development compared to his brother. It hurts me at some points but I keep on keeping on. We linked it to the brain not getting enough oxygen.”

The world needs to know

“I would like the world to understand that pneumonia is the number one killer disease in children. These children deserve a chance to live.

Save the Children Emergency Health Officer, Jedidah Onyango, gives life-saving treatment to Jackson, just three years and six months old.

 

A child who should have been saved

“Just a few days ago in the hospital, I noticed a baby. I felt that she could have been helped if she came in early, but I was told that it was a referral from very far away.

“Maybe this mother travelled or walked for many days [or] lacked money to bring the child to the hospital in time.”

“It really feels bad to see children dying of pneumonia… you feel this is something that, if action is taken early enough, should not kill a child.”

What causes pneumonia?

“Bacteria… the bacteria is mainly in the dusty areas and Turkana is very dusty. It’s also the hygiene of the environment.”

Who’s at risk?

“Children under five – their immunity is low so they easily get infected. And children who come from poor backgrounds.

“Malnutrition rates are very high in Turkana because of the long dry seasons. Parents often cannot get food because most of them are pastoralists [they farm livestock but the drought affecting East Africa means herds are dying].”

How dangerous is it?

“Pneumonia is deadly, especially in children, because once the children get infected with pneumonia, it blocks their airway, they cannot breathe in and out.

“If a child with pneumonia does not get treatment in time it can lead to death.”

The treatment when it’s severe

“Within thirty minutes this child needs to have their airway cleared, and be able to open up their lungs, so they can get oxygen to the body tissues as well as the brain.

“Then you work on reducing the temperature, then give the first antibiotics.”

How it feels to watch children battle pneumonia

“It gives me a very bad feeling – you want the baby to do well and you can see he’s in pain.

“I never used to understand why mothers could cry when the child is still alive and there’s still a heartbeat…but after my experience I came to understand…because it’s actually close to death. Once you see your child is being supported with just oxygen, you lose hope.”

What’s the answer?

“Pneumonia can be tackled by informing the community about the danger signs and symptoms, especially the early signs.

“We also have our Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) who identify pneumonia at an early stage before it complicates to a severe form.

“The CHVs live within the community, so whatever people hear from them, they trust it more than if they hear it from us.”

Counting breaths with beads

“Because most of the CHVs are illiterate, they can use the beads method to count the breaths. Once the breaths are beyond normal levels they know this is a danger sign, so they write a referral for the mothers, and send them to the health facility where a child can get treatment [antibiotics] at an early stage.

“The antibiotic takes five days and the child [usually] recovers. The community health volunteers follow up the treatment.

“CHVs are our eyes out there in the community. They have really assisted a great deal in Turkana.”

The best part of the job

“The most satisfying thing about my job is just to see a child improving… I just feel today I have saved a life and I really feel great.

“A good example is Jackson, who was brought into hospital in a very severe case. He was restless, he had very high fever, he had difficulty in breathing and I really had to act very fast.

“I went back there the same day in the evening, and he was doing well… it really made my day, I went home a happy person.”

And the worst

“Seeing a dying child I cannot help anymore – because now it is beyond me.

“And when I cannot do something for a child because one or two things are not there… for example enough oxygen, enough qualified staff, transport.

“When I am not able to save a life and watch a child helplessly succumb to death, I really get worried and depressed.”

This preventable disease should not be a death sentence. We’re launching a major campaign to end preventable child deaths from pneumonia around the world. It’s time to join Jedidah and fight back…

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