UN: 4 January 2008 – The results of a new United Nations-backed study – showing that home and hospital treatment of children suffering from severe pneumonia is equally effective – could transform how the illness is treated in developing countries and save many lives annually.
With nearly four children dying from pneumonia every minute, the illness is the largest single killer of children under the age of five worldwide, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). Some 60 per cent of pneumonia cases in the developing world are caused by bacteria and are therefore treatable with antibiotics, compared to the developed countries where most cases are viral.
Families in poor nations, where the majority of cases among children are, may not readily be able to access hospitals, and in-patient treatment could be difficult for parents who cannot leave their homes to accompany the sick child.
The study – conducted in Pakistan by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health and supported by WHO and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – involved over 2,000 children with severe pneumonia who were randomly assigned to receive injectable antibiotics in a hospital or take antibiotic pills at home.
The results, published this week in The Lancet, showed that 8.6 per cent of treatment failures occurred in children who were sent to hospitals, while 7.5 per cent were among those treated at home.
“The potential impact of these results is enormous,” said Dr. Shamim Qazi, Medical Officer with WHO’s Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development. “Effective management of pneumonia is critical to improving child survival.”
Treating children for pneumonia at home would be a huge benefit, both to families and health systems, Dr. Qazi added, noting that WHO’s 2008 guidelines will be updated to reflect the results of the new research.
May children with severe pneumonia referred for admission to hospitals either die before reaching them or are so sick by the time they arrive that nothing more can be done to save them.
For 2-3 per cent of all pneumonia cases, children with very severe pneumonia will still need treatment with injectable antibiotics at a hospital