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    Pneumonia killing Afghan children: Save the Children

    CountriesAfghanistanPneumonia killing Afghan children: Save the Children
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    Pneumonia killing Afghan children: Save the Children

    The UK-based charity, Save the Children says that countless families across Afghanistan are battling the bitter winter in freezing and damaged homes, unable to afford proper nutrition or heating or healthcare and children are going to bed cold at night without blankets or warm clothing.

    Pneumonia cases are soaring in Afghanistan, killing children who are unable to access healthcare facilities, says Save the Children.

    “Almost 60 per cent of those who couldn’t get healthcare said they had no money to pay for it. 31 per cent of respondents said they would only visit a clinic if it was a life-threatening illness,” the organisation says following an assessment it undertook between 18 November and 2 December 2021. Save interviewed 1,209 adult and 1,206 child respondents from the provinces of Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kabul, Nangahar and Sar-e-Paul.

    The assessment among adult respondents reported 930 cases of pneumonia. Of these, 77 per cent or 716 cases were of children with pneumonia. 396 of these children were below five years of age.

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    COVID-19 and pneumonia

    Save the Children’s officials on the ground in Afghanistan feel that while COVID-19 cases are increasing in the country, a lack of testing facilities makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of a role COVID-19 is playing in child pneumonia. “Across the country countless families are battling the bitter winter in freezing and damaged homes, unable to afford heating, their children going to bed cold at night without blankets or warm clothing,” the organisation says.

    “Combined with a million children facing severe malnutrition, all of the ingredients exist for a surge in pneumonia, regardless of the pandemic.”

    In December, 135 children died in or on their way for treatment at one overwhelmed hospital, the majority fighting for breath from pneumonia.

    An assessment by the children’s agency found that in December more than half (55%) of surveyed households who needed healthcare in the prior three months weren’t able to get it. Half of surveyed parents said their children have had pneumonia in the preceding two weeks.

    Child pneumonia is surging in the middle of a hunger crisis that is ravaging young immune systems. The collapse of the health system, driven largely by frozen financial assets and withdrawn aid, comes at a deadly cost for Afghan children.

    Unprecedented situation

    One doctor at a hospital in the north of the country said he had never seen so many cases of child pneumonia and severe malnutrition. Children are laying two, three or even four to a bed. He told Save the Children that 135 children had died in or on their way to the hospital in December – the majority fighting for breath from pneumonia, and 40 severely malnourished.

    If the malnourished children had made it to the hospital, they almost certainly would have survived, he said.

    The team leader of a mobile health clinic said: “Pneumonia cases are increasing every day, the number of patients coming to our clinics has shot up by two or three times in recent months. They just can’t afford the food and heat they need to stay healthy. Malnutrition and pneumonia are a deadly combination.”

    Even before the latest crisis, in Afghanistan pneumonia was responsible for more than one in five deaths of children under five and globally kills more young children than any other disease.

    A nine-year-old’s story

    Nine-year-old Wazhma* lives with her family in a village on the outskirts of Kabul, where many have lost their jobs and parents are going without meals to feed their children.

    Wazhma became sick with a high fever and continuous cough that left her struggling to breathe. Her parents tried home remedies but they didn’t work. They knew she needed to go to the hospital but they couldn’t afford it. Wazhma’s father Samir* had to ask a friend for a loan.

    Samir said: “If he had not given us the money, I am not sure if Wazhma* would have survived. She was struggling to breathe, it was frightening.

    “It is because of the freezing temperatures and people here unable to heat their homes. Many children here are cold for most of the day and as a result, become very sick.”

    At the hospital, Wazhma needed oxygen to help her breathe but doctors said they could only give it to her for 30 minutes because they were so low on oxygen cylinders. Doctors were treating up to three children crowded onto one bed.

    Wazhma said, “I felt very ill, I was sleeping a lot and moving hurt my body. I felt hot and tired. I was scared when I was at the hospital. I found it hard to breathe.”

    With medicine and the limited oxygen Wazhma eventually made a recovery but many children in Afghanistan don’t have that chance.

    * Names changed to protect identities

     

    Image: Save the Children

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