LITTLE TIFAH’S BATTLE WITH CHILDHOOD PNEUMONIA
Jeniffer Tomen holding 4-month-old Tifah outside her house.
By Dorothy Waweru
On a very warm Tuesday afternoon, inside the vast Kibra informal settlements, we find twenty-two-year-old Jeniffer breastfeeding her four-month-old baby girl, Tifah. Jeniffer is a mother of two, Tifah and her three-year-old brother.
As we settle in Jeniffer’s house, we cannot help but notice how healthy Tifah looks as she tries to catch a glimpse of her unknown visitors while engulfed in the warm embrace of her mother. Asking her about how her beautiful baby has been fairing on she shakes her head smiling lightly.
She narrates that a few weeks before we visited, Tifah would not be breastfeeding as comfortably as we found her. The little bundle of joy had been unwell to the point that she was unable to breathe; a situation that left Jeniffer worried and restless.
Tifah got sick and was found to have contracted pneumonia. She had a blocked nose and a congested chest. We could see that every time she coughed she would be in pain because she always cried so much. I did not have peace at all because I could see she was struggling to breathe, Jeniffer says.
Childhood pneumonia, a preventable disease affecting the lungs, remains the biggest killer of children under five globally. It manifests in various signs and symptoms such as coughing, fast breathing, chest in drawing and wheezing. According to World Health Organization (WHO), close to 800,000 children die every year from this deadly disease globally.
In Kenya data from the Ministry of Health shows that pneumonia accounts for 15% of all child deaths. In 2018 alone, pneumonia claimed the lives of 9,000 children.
Though fatal, pneumonia can be prevented. Guardians can ensure that their children don’t contract pneumonia by ensuring that they receive full doses of the pneumococcal vaccine, addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution by use of affordable clean cooking stoves, ensuring adequate indoor ventilation and most importantly, seeking medical care and advise when children show any of the signs and symptoms of pneumonia.
This is rarely the case though. Due to economic challenges among others, access to healthcare services in Kibra remains a tall order. Oftentimes, caregivers result to buying over-the-counter drugs from nearby chemists when they or their children fall sick.
This is what Jeniffer did after seeing her daughter’s predicament. But despite buying medication from the area chemist, Tifah’s health was not improving. In a panic, Jeniffer resorted to calling a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) who works with Save the Children in Kibra Sub-County.
When I saw that things were not well with my child, I called Violet, our area CHV and told her that my child was in a bad condition. Violet advised me to take the child to Shofco Health Centre in Kibra and that’s what I did, said Jenifer adding that Tifah had to be put on oxygen support because her condition had really deteriorated.
Thankfully, after a few days of admission, Tifah’s health improved and she was discharged from hospital.
I am so grateful for the CHVs working in this area and especially for Violet. She means everything to us. Sometimes, when our children get sick we go to her home; she has been a great asset to us because she gives us advice on what we need to do when we barely know the steps to take when our children fall sick. She has encouraged us to visit health facilities whenever our children are sick and to avoid over the counter medication, says a cheerful Jenifer.
To tackle pneumonia at the household level, Save the Children has embraced the Health Systems Strengthening approach which entails building capacity at the facility level through training of healthcare workers and community health volunteers to offer proper guidance to caregivers with children suffering from childhood illnesses like pneumonia.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health, and in line with our Country Strategic Goal, Children Under 5 Thrive, Save the Children aims to reduce child mortality rates of children under 5 years caused by preventable diseases through scaling up health interventions at the community level to protect, prevent and treat all children.