I am not a fan of awareness months. The campaigns go on too long and frankly, the pinking of October (or greening, or whatever color has captivated Madison avenue) leaves me feeling like diseases are part of a company’s portfolio. I also don’t appreciate being harassed every time I swipe my credit card at Safeway about donating to breast cancer/prostate cancer/MS/or what ever the most important disease appears to be. And stop putting ribbons on the flank steak for God’s sake. In October I bought all of my meat from a non-pinkified butcher.
I understand only too well that research dollars are vital, but I actually like to investigate my non-profit before I donate because some are, well, more expensive to run than others (March of Dimes, I’m talking to you, although I know you are not alone).
But disease awareness days are of value, especially when they are not co-opted by businesses is trying to exploit consumers. When disease awareness days are about awareness and the message remains undiluted they provide knowledge. And knowledge is power, often the power to change lives.
And that is what World Pneumonia Day is to me. A day to talk about the #1 killer of children under the age of five. More than 98% of these deaths happen in developing countries, where things like good nutrition, antibiotics, and a clean cook stove (things we take for granted) could help to save many of the 8.8 million children who die each year from pneumonia.
Both of my sons have had pneumonia. Victor once at the age of 6. He was very sick for a few days, but
took the antibiotics and was pretty much good to go after 4 days at home with antibiotics, rest, ibuprofen, and fluids. But Oliver has been hospitalized 7 times with pneumonia, 5 of those times before the age of 5. Twice in the pediatric intensive care unit and once, he was close to death (he has chronic lung disease from prematurity and of course, because being 1 lb 11 ounces at birth just wasn’t enough, he also has a heart defect that has so far required 2 surgeries and he still needs a valve replacement).
If we lived in a developing country it is highly probably that I would be childless.
So what can we do about pneumonia?
We can donate money to those in need. For example $10 (less than the price of DVD) can provide all the childhood vaccines for a child in a developing country.
What can we do closer to home to protect our own children?
- Keep them up to date on their vaccinations. When a child is vaccinated against Haemophilus (Hib) and Pneumococcus their chance of getting pneumonia drops by 49%. Also get your child (and yourself) vaccinated against the flu, because influenza pneumonia is also a killer of children. A total of 115 children, 46% of them younger than 5 years, died from influenza pneumonia in the U.S. from September 1, 2010 through to August 31, 2011. Other vaccine preventable diseases, specifically measles, chicken pox, and pertussis (whooping cough), can also cause pneumonia. The irony that parents in developing countries are desperate for their children to be vaccinated, while they are eschewed my many here is not lost on me. Actually, it’s more than ironic, it’s disrespectful to dismiss a health prevention tool that children are literally dying for in other countries.
- Work to promote breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life reduces a child’s chance of pneumonia by 15-23%.
- If you or your child is sick, stay at home/keep them at home. Don’t spread germs. You never know when the kid in your child’s class is vulnerable, like my son Oliver. There are kids with asthma, heart disease, and other conditions who are easily devastated by that respiratory virus (cold) that only gives your kid a slight fever.
- Use hand sanitizer (alcohol based degermer, not the thyme oil stuff) before and after you touch other people, grocery shop, etc. It is a highly effective way to kill viruses and bacteria.
- Pass this information along to someone else.