Pneumonia: The “forgotten killer”
Monday, July 15, 2013
LUSAKA, Zambia – I touched down at Lusaka International Airport on Thursday, just shy of midnight, via layovers in Amsterdam and Harare, Zimbabwe. The long, but otherwise unremarkable 24-hour journey was made suddenly poignant by back-to-back rounds of fumigation upon our descent into each African airport – “international health requirements,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker. Within seconds, another flight attendant charged down one aisle, and then the other, wielding a small yellow-and-red bottle, filling the cabin with an over-fragranced aerosol reminiscent of commercial bathroom spray. It’s to kill insects, the first attendant clarifies, as I pull him aside to ask him why this spray is used. “I cannot say,” he says, when I press for more.
A child behind me coughs, has been coughing for most of the trip, and even though it’s coincidence, likely triggered by tiny scented particles in the air, it focuses my jet-lagged brain on the reason I’m landing here in the first place: pneumonia.
Coughs, fever, phlegm, shortness of breath. All symptoms of pneumonia, all ailments more associated in the US with long hospital stays, the chronically infirmed, or the elderly. But here, the infectious disease takes away thousands of lives of the youngest Zambians each year.
Data cited in a 2012 report by Countdown to 2015, a coalition organization tracking progress towards the Millennium Development Goals around child and maternal health show pneumonia to be the leading single cause of death for children under five in Zambia, as it is for children globally, according to a recent study in the Lancet.
- Health Care