Pneumonia is the number one infectious killer of children under age five worldwide. One huge contributing problem to children catching pneumonia worldwide is household air pollution, specifically exposure to toxic smoke wood-fired stoves and open fires. The other significant factor is the lack of access to the pneumococcal vaccine which can help protect young children from this killer disease.
One man fighting the impacts of this disease any way he can, is Dr. Namlala Mkopi. Dr. Mkopi is a child health specialist and Pediatrician from Tanzania who participated in the pneumococcal vaccine rollout in that country. The pneumococcal vaccine has changed forever children’s health outcomes, and we were privileged to interview him.
What’s the cause or issue you’re most passionate about?
I always feel most passionate about the safety of a child. I’ve worked around children for so long, and I want to protect them and be a voice for them. It all made even more sense when I had a child of my own. When my son was born in 2011 we did not have the pneumococcal vaccine in the regular schedule so I bought it for my son on the private market. I was seeing kids dying every day from pneumonia, so as a parent I had to do it – but I need to protect every other child in the world, not just mine.
A doctor at Doctor To You helps when someone is sick, but how many kids can this doctor reach? What the vaccine can do that doctors can’t do, is attend to millions of children at the same time. The vaccine takes care of many kids: it’s cheap, quick, effective and easy to use.
What are your biggest obstacles?
We still have remote areas that are difficult to reach. In Tanzania, we are lucky that our healthcare system is solid and when you intro a new vaccine it trickles down well, but we still can’t reach each child. Globally there are still 20 percent of children who aren’t getting the vaccines they need. We must reach that fifth child.
We were all waiting and excited for the day when we would have this vaccine in place, we were all pushing to have this vaccine introduced. When it was launched everyone was very excited to see it launch and we were all hoping for changes to the death toll and disease patterns.
We’ve started seeing changes. We were anxious – hoping the results will be there, but now it’s happening! The vaccine is here and it’s rolling out and we’re seeing the results – it’s what we hoped for, it’s coming to be! Doctors and nurses are tired of seeing children dying every day. Now it’s not a story; it’s not a publication in a medical journal; we can see far emptier hospital wards and significantly fewer children with this disease. We’re living our hope.
What are you worried about?
Pneumonia is still the biggest infectious killer of children under five in the world. The fight is still on. I’ll not stop fighting until the disease is gone.
What are your hopes for the future on this issue?
It’s going to be a tough fight, but at the end of the day we have to give a shot at life to that fifth child, the one who’s not getting the vaccine. All of us need to play our part to make sure we don’t hear the cry of yet another mother who’s lost a child because they didn’t receive that vaccine. I call to mothers of the world to speak for each other’s children.
Today is World Pneumonia Day. Join the Shot@Life campaign and urge Congress around World Pneumonia Day to help fight this devastating disease. It only takes a few minutes with this easy tool! http://bit.ly/SALsoundoff #vaccineswork
You can also learn more about clean cooking solutions at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, because cooking shouldn’t kill.