Pneumonia outbreak kills hundreds of children in Pakistan

Epidemic forces hospitals in Punjab to declare state of emergency

Sick Pakistani children at the District Headquarters Hospital in the flood-affected Muzaffargarh district, in Punjab province. AP
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At least 220 children have died of pneumonia in Pakistan’s Punjab province since January 1, health authorities reported on Wednesday.

Fourteen children died in the province from pneumonia infections in the past 24 hours alone, according to data shared by Punjab Health Department.

Health authorities linked the rise in deaths to the weather in Pakistan, with extreme cold and a lack of rain creating ideal conditions for pneumonia to take hold.

“Pneumonia cases happen each year but this year January remains dry, with no rainfall so far,” said Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, director of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation in Punjab.

"Rainfall settles the dust and combats pollution level to a great extent."

Since January 1, a total of 10,520 pneumonia cases have been reported in the province. All the 220 deaths were in children under the age of five, with 47 deaths in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab.

Punjab has a population of 127.7 million.

Dr Ahmed said babies in Pakistan are usually administered with their first anti-pneumonia vaccine, called PCV, about six weeks after birth.

“From birth till the age of two, the EPI ensures that a baby receives 12 vaccines against different diseases," he said. "Of these, three are to protect children from pneumonia.

“Pneumonia can be caused by both bacteria and virus. Vaccinated children are safe against bacterial infection but they can still be affected by viral pneumonia."


Discussing the measures being taken by the government, he said separate wards have been established in various hospitals to tackle the pneumonia epidemic.

Ali Nawaz, a Lahore resident whose two-year-old nephew has suspected pneumonia, told The National the toddler was treated for four days at Services Hospital Lahore and is now well on the road to recovery.

“Initially, the child started coughing and subsequently caught fever the same day,” said Mr Nawaz. "However, when we took him to Children’s Hospital, we learnt it was pneumonia.

“After spending a day at Children Hospital Lahore, we took the child to Services Hospital where our relative is a senior doctor. After five days, the doctors have now advised that the baby can be taken home.”

The provincial government has launched a new working group of doctors and health officials to monitor pneumonia cases daily, said Dr Muhammad Younas, a senior Punjabi government health official.

“Emergency has been declared at hospitals,” he said. "The technical group registers the number of cases on a daily basis and also monitors various health facilities in the province to ensure adequate care for the patients.

“On the district level, too, staff members have been specified at hospitals to ensure proper treatment of pneumonia-hit children.”

He said the increase in cases was due to low rainfall and the intensity of the cold weather.

“I think the government has already maximised health facilities down to the union council level," he said.

He highlighted a lack of education around health care in some families.

"Many people still avoid family planning, particularly in rural areas, or lack education and they bring children to hospital when their child’s condition has already worsened.”

Updated: January 25, 2024, 10:39 AM