The Jakarta Post
Pneumonia — a respiratory infection that affects the lungs, leading to painful, difficult breathing — has been identified as one of the leading causes of death among children worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia kills more children than any other illness and accounts for nearly one in five child deaths globally.
As the special report in today’s paper confirms, this respiratory disease has continuously been a serious health problem in the country. The Basic Health Survey (Riskesdas) held in 2018 showed that the prevalence of pneumonia had increased to 2 percent last year from 1.85 percent in 2013. Nationwide, confirmed cases of pediatric pneumonia last year reached 505,331, of which 425 patients died.
Efforts through behavioral change — such as stopping the habit of smoking in homes — and medical treatment targeted at preventing this childhood disease should, therefore, be the key in addressing the problem. The government has declared infant mortality reduction as one of its top priorities.
A health campaign dubbed the People’s Healthy Lifestyle Movement (Germas) was introduced nationally in November 2015 to improve the quality of life and well-being of all Indonesians. The movement is aimed at changing people’s behavior and encouraging them to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Campaigns have included exclusive breast-feeding and to follow a balanced dietary intake, as such measures could help prevent weak immune systems in infants.
People have also been encouraged to wash their hands prior to eating, while tobacco control efforts and creating a healthy environment with zero pollution have also been advocated.
All these practices are proven measures to significantly prevent the disease from developing into an epidemic. However, apart from curbing and overcoming pneumonia, other priorities also demand government resources — such as the stubbornly high infant and maternal mortality rates, a staggering rate of children with stunted growth and the growing burden of various diseases also in the adult population.
Apart from behavioral changes, efforts to prevent infant deaths will certainly need the equally important proper medical measures. Specifically for pneumonia, Indonesia is obviously in urgent need of new vaccines, such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 13 ( PCV13 ), a vaccine that helps protect people from 13 of the most severe types of bacteria that cause pneumonia.
This type of vaccine was introduced to reduce pneumonia cases through an immunization pilot project held in West Nusa Tenggara regencies of East Lombok and West Lombok in October 2017, followed by Bangka Belitung in 2018. Efforts to drastically reduce pneumonia-triggered infant mortality rates require the expansion of this specific vaccine inoculation.
However, we still rely on imports for the provision of PCV13. In the long run, however, we should make the necessary investment to produce the vaccine at home. As a public health expert said, the government has agreed to spend some Rp 125.3 trillion (US$8.89 billion) on an energy subsidy, almost equal to the budgetary allocation for the health sector. Therefore, there should be much more spending on life-saving vaccinations for children.