The world’s number 1 killer of children is pneumonia. Every year, 1.4 million children under 5 die from the disease. This week, there’s new evidence of just how effective local health workers like Felix in Guatemala can be in battling pneumonia.
In February, Felix could not convince 3-year-old Gaspar’s parents to take him to the hospital. The little boy was seriously ill with pneumonia and Felix knew he might die. Because Felix had diagnosed Gaspar’s pneumonia as severe, standard practice called for him to refer the child to a health facility. But despite the trust Gaspar’s family had in Felix, they assured him that wouldn’t happen. The full story behind their refusal turned out to be incredibly sad.
Last year they took Gaspar’s older sister Maria to the nearest hospital because she was very sick, likely from pneumonia. Not sure how to diagnose or treat her, the hospital referred Maria to the regional hospital—a 3-4 hour bus ride away. From there, Maria was referred again, and her family took her another 5 hours to a hospital in Guatemala City. The whole ordeal lasted 20 days, and then Maria died.
So Felix wound up treating Gaspar at home, giving him oral antibiotics and teaching his mother the proper dosage to give him in the days ahead. To everyone’s relief, Gaspar recovered.
As Gaspar’s father told Felix in February, there are a number of reasons why poor families in rural communities cannot get the help that they need. Lack of transportation and money often make trips to clinics and hospitals impossible. And, as with Gaspar’s family, there may be more to the story. The family’s faith in hospitals and doctors had evaporated, but their trust in Felix was strong. They believed he could do a better job, and in the end they were right.
Now there’s new evidence that empowering more frontline health workers to treat severe pneumonia at home could save many more children’s lives.
A new study in The Lancet shows that empowering local health workers like Felix around the world could offer new hope to the families who need it most.
The results come just in time for World Pneumonia Day, which aims to draw the world’s attention to the leading killer of children worldwide.
Watch this video showing Felix as he diagnoses Gaspar with pneumonia:
Photo credit: Save the Children