Saving Children’s Lives by Recognizing and Treating Pneumonia in Afghanistan

Saving Children’s Lives by Recognizing and Treating Pneumonia in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s mountain ranges are beautiful to the eye. Rugged peaks and ridges are separated by valleys, carved out over the centuries by streams and rivers supporting the green web of vegetation along their banks.

But many of the small villages that cling to the walls of these valleys are often cut off for months by heavy snow or the floods that follow the spring melt. The cold wet climate, together with smoke from household stoves, increases the risk of pneumonia, particularly among babies and children. One in five deaths of young Afghan children is caused by pneumonia, an infection easily treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early enough.

Through its MSH-led Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival (BASICS) project, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) works with nongovernmental organizations to assist community health workers (CHWs) in recognizing and treating pneumonia in the early stages, before it becomes life-threatening.

USAID is training CHWs in Community-based Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (C-IMCI) to assess whether a child with an acute respiratory infection needs antibiotics or if the illness is severe enough to refer to the nearest health center.

“I knew about pneumonia before,” said Abdullah a trained CHW, from Bamyan, in Afghanistan’s mountainous central highlands, “but this training has made me more confident in recognizing the danger signs. Because we were able to treat them early, there were fewer cases of pneumonia in my community this past winter.”

Abdullah is one of more than 22,000 CHWs who form the cornerstone of the Afghan health system. They treat almost half of all cases of child pneumonia because they work at community level, often in small remote villages, a long way from a health clinic.

Through projects, such as BASICS, USAID works with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to improve the quality of care provided by CHWs. Simple methods of increasing the survival of young children help minimize the dangers and sadness that so often lurk behind the beauty of the mountains.

BASICS/Afghanistan, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), provides technical assistance to the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan to address newborn health, community case management of childhood illnesses, nutrition, pediatric hospital care improvement, behavior change communications, and systems strengthening.

Bill Newbrander is Principal Technical Director at MSH.