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Africa: Preventing Pneumonia in Malawi

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I am the mother of 4 children and have always done everything I could to protect my kids and ensure they were healthy and strong. When my children were little, I made sure I took them to the doctor for their routine check ups. This included staying on top of their immunization schedule. As a result, I feel like this has protected my family over the years not only from getting chicken pox and measles, but also pneumonia.

I recently participated in a trip to Malawi, Africa, with the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia. I saw firsthand what is being done to raise awareness of pneumonia and advocate for global action to protect against, effectively treat, and help prevent this deadly disease.

Did you know that pneumonia is the leading killer of children under the age of 5? Not just in Malawi, but worldwide. One child dies from this disease every 20 seconds. It kills 1.4 million children annually, 98% of them in developing countries. Pneumonia not only kills babies, but children and adults as well. The saddest part is that pneumonia can be prevented before it occurs; vaccines are a safe and effective way to do this and are now available in countries like Malawi and Kenya.

November 12th is World Pneumonia Day. It was set up to raise awareness about pneumonia among leaders and health care providers, to educate the public about pneumonia, and to advocate for more funding. UNICEF is making sure that vaccines are quickly being distributed to all areas of Malawi so they can reduce the incidence of illness and occurrence of death in the population.

I traveled with representatives from  the International Vaccine Access Center" (IVAC), a group of journalists, and UNICEF to see the impact the pneumonia vaccine has had on the Malawian people. I was amazed at all the work that is being done in this country by both the Malawi government and international aid organizations to save so many lives.

We started our trip by visiting Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongue. This hospital services 6-8 regions. They have approximately 1,000 beds and see around 800 people a day. It was clear that this facility had exceeded it's capacity. There were several children sharing beds, and long lines to get care. I was, however, impressed at how organized the facility was. I could tell that the medical staff was providing the best care they could to their patients. 

We were able to talk with the nurses, doctors, and medical staff at Kamuza Hospital. These people are committed to their jobs and to helping the people in their community. They have limited resources and are making the best of it. Not only are they working long hours, but some of them must travel long distances to get to work. "It is worth it," they say.

While we were there, we met a woman named Trefonia who had admitted her baby a few days earlier. Trefonia brought her baby to the hospital when the baby started coughing uncontrollably for several hours. While there, her baby was diagnosed with pneumonia. Something as simple as a cough could mean life or death for these infants. Parents and caregivers carefully watch for these symptoms. The child was receiving treatment, and Trefonia was hopeful that her baby would be okay. She is blessed she was able to get her child medical treatment quickly or it would have been a different story.

Most Malawians do not live next to a central hospital. For this reason, 650 Health Centers have been built around the region to make it possible for people to get the medical treatment they need. We were able to see firsthand how these facilities worked and how they administered health care. In the centers they teach the importance of breast feeding for the first six months, proper nutrition, indoor air pollution reduction while cooking, and how washing their hands more frequently can stop the spread of disease.

Beyond the Health Centers are Rural Health Facilities, where the Malawi Ministry of Health ensures that citizens in even the most rural parts of the country receive pneumonia treatment. UNICEF is distributing Essential Medical Kits to these areas so that immunizations are available to everyone. When we drove to this facility in Blantyre, we received a warm welcome from the Malawian people. They greeted us in song as we approached. This facility is literally set up under a tree. Its limbs are symbolic of arms that reach out to care and nourish the people of this area.

Many of these women and children walked 2-3 hours to get here. They do this to protect their children and get them the necessary help they need; to prevent their children from getting sick.

As parents, we would do anything to keep our children safe. The mothers and women of Malawi are no different. Their strength and courage touched me. I saw grandmothers caring for their grand babies when their daughter had died during child birth. I saw neighbors, siblings, and friends rallying around one another in order to care for these children.

What I realize from my trip to Africa is that even though I live on the opposite side of the globe from these beautiful people, they are my friends. As parents, we want the same things. We want the best for our children. We would do anything to keep our family safe and well. I will continue to do my part to bring awareness to this important global health initiative. I will not forget my new friends and hope to be able to visit them again some day.

What You Can Do to Make a Difference

  • Get educated. Find out what is being done to prevent sickness and disease in your city or state.
  • Increase awareness.  Find out what is being done in other parts of the world. What are their resources and challenges?
  • Drive donations. If you can, find ways you can contribute.
  • Spur Government Leaders to Action. Let your government leaders know that you care about this issue. Find ways to bring awareness to this issue and offer your support.


Photo Credit: Matthew Feldman, Research Associate for IVAC

What are you doing to ensure your children are safe from illness or disease? What can you do to help others have the same privilege?

Jill Greenlaw has a banking background. She gave that up 17 years ago when she got married and started having kids. She loved being a stay-at-home mom while raising her four beautiful children. A few years ago, Jill went back to work in sales. She is now working for the Mom It Forward team as their Community Manager. She loves her job. Her interests include camping, motorcycling, boating, photography, reading, cooking, and traveling. Put her in flip flops anywhere warm and she is happy.



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