Despite her easy disposition Mary Adhiambo is a woman from Kenya who has been through pain and trauma. As women all over the world marked Mother’s Day (May 13 2012), Mary admires women with their little daughters as she remembers her own daughter; the daughter who was taken from her two-year-ago, due to a disease that could have been prevented.
She smiles apprehensively as she narrates her story, which she says seems like a bad nightmare that unfortunately she can’t wake up from because it is the reality.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. It is a common and deadly disease in Kenya and across the developing world. It is estimated to be responsible for 30,000 childhood deaths in Kenya each year, while one in every 12 children suffers from it. Pneumonia is one of the major causes of childhood deaths in the world, severely affecting children below the age of two.
Pneumococcal bacteria are spread from person to person through close contact. When they attack a child they lead to difficulty in breathing, cough, fever, chills, headaches, loss of appetite and wheezing.
According to a joint report by UNICEF and WHO, Pneumonia kills more children under five than any other disease such as malaria, measles and HIV combined. The report further says that 150 million pneumonia cases occur every year in the developing world, making it a challenge in children healthcare
A few months before the birth of her daughter, Mary’s husband was diagnosed with extra-pulmonary TB and put on treatment. Together with her elder son, Mary was screened for the fatal yet curable disease and both were given a clean bill of health. Soon after this, on the 20 July 2010, Mary became a proud mother when she gave birth to her daughter.
“She was beautiful. People never believed that she was mine or that I could have such a pretty little girl,” she recalls with a sad smile.
When she was two-months-old, Mary’s daughter fell ill and was taken to a local hospital in Kibera where she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was referred to Mbagathi District Hospital and admitted. When they get to hospital, any patient will feel relief and hope, certain they will get treatment and recover from what is ailing them. However it was not the case with Mary.
“The doctors told me they could not administer a certain treatment to give my daughter, which in this case was an injection to relieve her breathing problems, as she was too young; it is only administered to children over one year,” says Mary.
This was a big blow for Mary. She prayed her child would get better with the alternative medicine she was given. Three days after admission her child, who had been put on oxygen, started developing complications. Her stomach swelled and neither she nor the doctors could understand the reason because as she was not constipated.
Two days later, Mary watched her daughter as she took her final painful breath. Pneumonia! She never imagined that her daughter would succumb to pneumonia. Her world crashed, she forgot where she was. From a distance she could hear someone screaming and crying loudly, she lost track of time and the face of daughter haunted her for a long time afterwards.
Mary has since learned of a vaccine that could have saved the life of her daughter who would have turned two this year.
The pneumonia caccine is currently recommended for all children under five and like all vaccines it is injected into the body to stimulate the normal immune system to produce antibodies that will fight against the pneumonia bacteria. Mothers are advised to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life and ensure prompt treatment of children with respiratory disease as a preventive measure against pneumonia.
According to Mr. Jack Ndegwa, KANCO’s vaccines advocacy officer, the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, through the Division of Vaccines and Immunization, aims to increase access to immunization services nationwide in order to reduce morbidity and mortality due to vaccine preventable diseases.
“Vaccines services are provided free of charge in Kenya and therefore I urge all mothers and guardians to ensure that their children are vaccinated against the following diseases: tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertusis, tetanus, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type b, measles, yellow fever and pneumococcal disease,” he said.