As persistent cold weather and smog grip the country, a health crisis has been battering the country's largest province with thousands of cases of pneumonia along with hundreds of fatalities.
Punjab has been witnessing dry winters, leaving children at risk of contracting pneumonia, has reported over 8,000 pneumonia cases and 300 deaths in the month of January alone.
Despite the provincial government's measures such as the extension of school holidays, clipped classroom hours and mandated face masks, the number of cases of respiratory disease continues to surge with the Children's Hospital in Lahore admitting hundreds of cases every day.
Despite offering free vaccination for respiratory disease at six, 10 and 14 weeks of age, the country has long grappled with the challenge of increasing vaccine uptake in a nation where misinformation is rife with some even declaring it un-Islamic.
Director of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Awan has urged parents to ensure the administration of the complete course of vaccines to children under the age of two.
However, Awan said that the available vaccines were not quite effective in the prevailing viral pneumonia. Detailing the available stocks, Dr Mukhtar clarified that there is a sufficient stock of pneumonia immunisation vaccines that could be administered to both children and adults.
"Pneumonia vaccines are not available in the local market, whereas, no one can import these vaccines in Pakistan without the prior permission of the government. The government imports immunisation vaccines from foreign countries only for children," the EPI director said.
Premature births and stunting caused by malnutrition are also prevalent, weakening children who are then easy prey for pneumonia.
Meanwhile, Unicef has said that roughly half of childhood pneumonia fatalities are associated with air pollution.
In December 2023, the pneumonia outbreak was reported by Geo News, highlighting the large number of patients with chronic conditions and children falling prey to lung infection and other respiratory diseases due to weak immunity with the advent of the winter.
Health experts also warned of an acute rise in pneumonia cases among elderly people and children. They suggested plenty of rest, warm beverages, steam baths, or humidifiers in houses for air moisture and timely consultations with doctors.
Pakistan is among 13 countries across the globe where pneumonia spreads every year.
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