Video: Combating pneumonia, child mortality in Zambia

April 24, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] Pneumonia, or acute respiratory disease, is the second leading cause of mortality among children under five in Zambia. It’s a major health concern that Episcopal Relief & Development, in partnership with the Zambian Anglican Council and other stakeholders, is determined to combat through the implementation of a pneumococcal vaccination program later this year.

The initial vaccination program will focus on Zambia’s Luapula Province, which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north.

“It’s made up of some extraordinary communities that are very rural, very isolated, where people live along waterways, so it’s an extremely difficult place to work,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s senior vice president for programs. “But it’s a place where we’re pleased to work and a place where the church has a lot of community-based networks and the capacity to bring the vaccine to children.”

According to the World Health Organization, pneumococcal disease is responsible for the deaths of more than 1.5 million people worldwide every year, including more than half a million children before their fifth birthday.

The pneumococcal vaccine has been available in the U.S. since the early 1900s and has been recommended since 2000 for all children aged 2 to 23 months. But only very recently has the vaccine been available in the developing world.

Zambia is planning to introduce the vaccine into its health system this year, but the ministry of health relies on organizations such as the Zambian Anglican Council and Episcopal Relief & Development to ensure that treatment reaches the children who need it most.

“It’s a little known fact that acute respiratory infection kills more children than AIDS. If you address diarrheal-related diseases, pneumonia-related diseases and malaria, you’re really getting at the three leading killers of children under five, particularly in contexts like Luapula,” said Nelson.

The program in Luapula has the potential of reaching 250,000 children whose lives are at risk from contracting pneumonia as well as other diseases. “We’re looking at what’s called an integrated child health program … that also helps increase nutrition and reduce deaths from diseases such as malaria,” said Nelson. “If we can address these illnesses, of course, children will live, they will thrive, and they will contribute to the greater health and community life of their country.”

Episcopal Relief & Development has worked in partnership with ZAC — the body that represents all five dioceses and health and training institutions for the Anglican Church in Zambia — in combating malaria through the NetsforLife® program, an Episcopal Relief & Development program partnership that has won awards and earned widespread respect for saving millions of lives in Africa.

The pilot project was launched in Zambia in 2005, and a decrease in malaria cases of more than 50 percent has been reported in some areas.

Due to previous success with its malaria prevention initiatives in Zambia and an earlier food security program that began in 2000, the ZAC and Episcopal Relief & Development partnership is a “model for the rest of Africa,” Stephen Dsizi, technical director for NetsforLife®, told ENS during a three-day training program in July 2011 in Lusaka, Zambia.

The training program brought together international and local experts in health issues and representatives from relief and development organizations to prepare Zambian Anglicans for the pneumonia immunization program.

Nelson told ENS that the Zambian Anglican Council has a “fantastic reputation with the ministry of health and other ministries. We’re privileged to be able to support them as they continue to reach out in the communities and be a strong presence for people in need.”

The Zambia Anglican Council, under the directorship of Grace Phiri and in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, “has shown how to develop and implement projects that are a demonstration for the globe,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who participated in a portion of the July 2011 training in Lusaka, told ENS at the time. “It’s remarkable work that is integrated and holistic and serving the whole community.”

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.