Children are not little adults and babies are not little children, it is said. That’s because children are not immune to bacteria and viruses. In fact, these could kill them or cripple them at a young age.
And then come factors like air pollution that add further stress on the lungs of even healthy children. They risk getting asthma, allergies and various other disorders which affect their health and longevity. Delhi’s high levels of pollution, for example, put babies and children at high risk of infection be it viral or pneumonia.
A few decades ago, measles used to be a big killer and it used to be said: count your children after measles. But that was before vaccination for measles started saving millions of children. Vaccinations protect children from pneumonia — currently Hib vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type b and PCV (Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine) — is making a huge difference in saving children from pneumonia.
Children are also vulnerable to micro and macro nutrient deficiencies, while growing. And certain pneumonias can be more common in under-nourished children. Hence they need to be given proper nutrition, growth and development support to prevent them from being statistics.
One of the best ways to protect children — especially in the first six months of life is to exclusively breastfeed. It increases the chance of survival and transfer of antibodies from mothers to babies through breast milk and increases their chance of survival. Weaning of babies from breast feeding to take solid foods is equally important, since nutrition in the two years after birth determines whether the child becomes undernourished.
Malnutrition is a predisposing factor for pneumonia. A balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, minerals, etc, ensures the baby has adequate immunity — to be able to resist infections, especially pneumonia.
As for the air pollution (indoor and outdoor) — a threat to the respiratory health of children — it manifests in conditions such as asthma, wheezing, persistent coughs and even an increased risk of lung cancer in the long term. Therefore it is necessary to teach children the importance of air quality and the effect of pollution on their health. Encourage them to adopt healthy habits, and to contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment to live in.
(The writer is Founder Chairman and Executive Director, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals. Views are personal.)