World Pneumonia Day (WPD) helps us focus on the major killers of children globally. While Pneumonia is responsible for more child mortality across the world, in tropical malaria endemic areas both create nearly equal damage (see WPD graphic showing Nigeria and DRC which are both have the highest burden for pneumonia, but also malaria). Of particular concern is case management at the clinic and community level where there is great need to differentiate between these two forms of febrile illness so that the right care is given and lives are saved.
Diagnostics are a particular challenge. While we now have malaria rapid diagnostic test kits that can be used at the community level, we must rely on breath counting for malaria. The Pneumonia Diagnostics Project (see video) “is working to identify the most accurate and acceptable devices for use by frontline health workers in remote settings in Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda.”
Ease of use at low cost must be achieved. One approach to solve the pneumonia diagnostics challenge at community and front line clinic level is to find “mobile phone applications or alternative energy for pulse oximetry,” to test low oxygen levels.
Vaccine development for both diseases is underway. The challenge for malaria results from the different stages of the parasites life-cycle. Lack of affordable vaccines for pneumonia limits at present widespread preventive action, though public-private partnerships offer hope.
Dispersable and correct dose for age prepackaged malaria drugs are already available. Now more child-friendly medicines for pneumonia are being developed. In low resource settings, “amoxicillin dispersible tablets are a better option, particularly for children who can’t swallow pills. They have a longer shelf-life, are cost-effective, don’t need refrigeration, and are easy to administer.”
Similarities in the problems and solutions to control these two diseases require that interventions must continue to be developed and implemented jointly in order to benefit children the most. As can be seen again from the WPD graphics (right), many children do not get needed treatment. Integrated case management at all levels is the answer.