By Edeline Anne Goh
Each year, 14.5 million serious cases of pneumococcal disease occurs around the world in children under 5 years. Discover why you should say YES to PnD protection and how you can help make it available to all Malaysians.
What Is Pneumococcal Disease?
Pneumococcal disease (PnD) is caused by a bacterium called S. pneumonia, which is also known as pneumococcus. According to the World Health Organization, this bacterium is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths among children under 5 years of age. Each year, 1.6 million people worldwide succumb to PnD.
PnD can be categorised into 2 types – invasive PnD and non-invasive PnD. The former can be a very serious illness especially among young children, with meningitis being the most severe form. 5 percent of children below 5 will die from this infection or experience long-term problems such as blindness or loss of hearing. The latter usually presents milder symptoms and is a much more common form of PnD. However, this non-invasive PnD can easily progress into a more serious version.
What Are The Symptoms?
This bacterium can affect any part of the body and symptoms depend on the affected area. These symptoms include:
If the bacterium affects the brain, the child may suffer from meningitis. Symptoms include headaches, vomiting, seizures, fever and in severe cases, the patient can fall into a coma. Pneumococcal meningitis is most prevalent among children under the age of 1.
This is the infection of the middle ear caused by the bacterium. Symptoms include swelling of eardrum, which leads to ear aches, sleeplessness, fever and irritability. In more severe cases, it can affect hearing.
The fatality rate of this condition, which affects the lungs, is between 5 to 7 percent. Symptoms of this condition include abrupt fever, shivering, chest pain and shortness of breath.
This is a more severe form of PnD whereby the bacteria is present in the blood stream. Symptoms include fever, irritability and rapid breathing.
It is important to note that some of these symptoms may appear to be ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ but if the symptoms worsen, it is absolutely vital that you take your child to the doctor immediately.
If you have been diagnosed with pneumococcal disease in the past, don’t be too sure that you might not catch it again. There are 90 known subtypes of pneumococcal bacteria and having been infected with one type does not always make you immune to other types. Therefore, the solution to this problem is – vaccination.
PnD can be fatal and often appears without warning. The bacterium can be easily spread through respiratory droplets and it is not unusual for people — especially children — to carry and spread pneumococcal bacteria to others without showing signs of illness themselves. If you are in contact with a carrier, just a sneeze, cough or even touching an object, which has been handled by the person infected with the bacteria can make you ill.
That’s why the best way to prevent this insidious disease is through vaccination. Pneumococcal vaccines are available in 2 varieties namely polysaccharide, for adults, and conjugate for children. This disease is most prevalent among young children and the elderly.
The only issue is that it has yet to be incorporated as part of the National Immunisation Programme despite being recommended by health organizations worldwide. This means that the vaccine is not easily available to all Malaysians as it is only offered — usually at a prohibitive cost — at private healthcare centres.
Say YES To The PnD Protection Campaign
The good news is that you can make a change! The YES to PnD protection campaign is an initiative by non-governmental organisation parenting2u, Asian Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal Disease Prevention (ASAP) and Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA). The campaign, which began in April and will end this month, aims to bring together healthcare professionals, parents and like-minded individuals to urge the government to incorporate pneumococcal vaccine for children into the National Immunisation Programme. This is a strong step towards making the pneumococcal vaccine available to all Malaysian children to ensure they are able to lead a healthy life.
100 paediatricians and general healthcare practitioners throughout Malaysia have been recruited for the campaign which provides doctors a platform to talk about PnD and why protection is essential.
The role of parents is to fill in a pledge card as a sign of support which will be compiled and sent to the Ministry of Health.
For more information on where you can take a pledge to improve the life and health of Malaysian children, please visit www.abc4pneumococcal.com.