Simple Measures Save Children’s Lives: Creating Universal Access to Pneumonia Care and Treatment in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Simple Measures Save Children’s Lives: Creating Universal Access to Pneumonia Care and Treatment in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Photo credit: Warren Zelman

Every year, pneumonia kills approximately 936,000 children under the age of five, accounting for 15 percent of all deaths within this age group. One of the worst affected countries is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where pneumonia took the lives of nearly 50,000 children in 2013, including almost 7,000 newborns.

For the sixth year, people around the global are bringing awareness to this critical—and solvable—problem by commemorating World Pneumonia Day today, November 12th. This year’s theme is: “Universal access to pneumonia prevention and care”.

[CDC: World Pneumonia Day 2014]CDC: World Pneumonia Day 2014

In 2010, Management Sciences for Health (MSH) launched the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Integrated Health Project (IHP) in the DRC, which provides approximately 12 million inhabitants (1/6 of the country) with an integrated package of essential health services, delivered through a network of thousands of community health workers, 1,715 health centers, and 78 general referral hospitals.

These services, focused on maternal, newborn and child health, HIV, and family planning, are the foundation of the government’s strategy to achieve universal health coverage (UHC).

Stopping pneumonia now

Early diagnosis of suspected pneumonia and treatment with life-saving antibiotics is one of the cornerstone interventions provided to newborns and older children. The IHP’s 2011 baseline study showed that newborns had the lowest coverage of this intervention while older children were much better served.

IHP significantly expanded this life-saving intervention to newborns. Between October 2013 and September 2014, MSH-supported health providers in the DRC administered antibiotics for suspected infections (including pneumonia) to 34,820 newborns (a 140 percent increase over the 2011 baseline). MSH-supported health workers also provided antibiotics to 495,392 older children diagnosed with suspected pneumonia (15 percent higher than the 2011 baseline).

IHP also applied effective preventive activities—such as immunizations against measles, pneumococcus, and hemophilus influenza type B, and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding and vitamin A supplementation—likely leading to fewer children contracting pneumonia.

Three strategies

Three MSH-supported strategies, implemented through the government’s health services, have been instrumental to these achievements in the DRC—and should be considered for other countries:

  1. Enhancing the capacities of district government health leaders to operate local programs to reduce childhood and neonatal mortality (including pneumonia control) by training and supervising health providers and implementing social mobilization and community education activities (including the use of SMS).
  2. Ensuring that life-saving drugs (including antibiotics for neonatal infection and child pneumonia) are consistently available to all health providers by providing technical assistance to the government’s local drug warehouses to ensure that all logistics procedures (drug forecasting, procurement, distribution, use and reporting) are properly implemented.
  3. Facilitating the application of periodic data quality audits at service delivery points. For any public health program to succeed, it is important that local health managers receive accurate information in a timely manner from their health providers so that they can plan for the next program efforts. The audits ensure that information recorded in patients’ records is accurately reported in the government’s health information system in a timely manner. They are coupled with the production of scorecards which summarize program performance and are used by government health officials for local decision making.

As we commemorate World Pneumonia Day, we continue to focus on ways to provide universal access to pneumonia prevention and care for children in the DRC and worldwide to stop pneumonia now. This will bring us one step closer to our vision of a world where everyone has the opportunity for a healthy life.

Join the World Pneumonia Day conversations on social media with hashtags and .