India tops in kids' deaths due to flu

Every year more than 370, 000 Indian children under five die as a result of pneumonia and as many as 7 per cent of those die after contracting flu, according to one of the world’s biggest studies on influenza burden, which analysed data for 80 lakh children worldwide.
“Out of 1.57 million pneumonia deaths worldwide, 370,000 are Indian children below five.

This is a statistical assumption based on three years of data collected from Ballavgarh in Haryana. This is a statistical assumption with limited data set and the estimates would improve with more data,” lead author Harish Nair from the University of Edinburgh told Deccan Herald.

The statistics are included in a study published in Lancet, which estimates that 90 million cases of seasonal flu occur in under-five children each year globally out of which 20 million are flu-related pneumonia resulting in one million hospital admissions.

But for the recent H1N1 pandemic, influenza is never on the radar of the health policy planners though it has a very high mortality rate particularly when it strikes the old and the young. Flu related pneumonia is responsible for 28,000 to 115,000 deaths around the globe among children under five years.

While Ballavgarh data suggests that about 6,000 flu-related pneumonia deaths occur in hospitals, as many as three times this number could be occurring at home.

Acute lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in young children. Around 156 million new episodes of ALRI occur worldwide every year and about 1.56 million young children died as a result of such infections in 2008.

While vaccines against influenza are available in the market and prescribed by physicians, there is a debate going on in India on the usefulness of introducing those vaccines in the public heath system.

Effective solution

“While vaccine is an effective solution, there are other preventive strategies to deal with pneumonia. For instance if antibiotics and oxygen are available at all healthcare centres, it would make a huge impact as most kids die due to lack of oxygen,” Nair said, adding that oxygen could also take care of respiratory syncytial virus, which is the commonest agent for respiratory infections.

The study involving 47 researchers from 14 countries reviewed data from high-income and developing countries suggests that the extent of the flu epidemic and associated pneumonia deaths could vary widely each year – within India and rest of the world.

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