In advance of World Pneumonia Day, November 12, Shot@Life hosted Dr. Namala Mkopi, an attending pediatrician and child health specialist from the Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania. Dr. Mkopi gave personal accounts detailing his encounters with pneumonia and discussed the challenges and successes of the pneumococcal vaccine for children in developing countries.
Pneumonia accounts for nearly a million deaths each year, half of which are vaccine-preventable. According to Dr. Mkopi, preventing pneumonia is of paramount importance as there are many obstacles standing in the way of receiving effective medical care for those living in developing countries.
“As a pediatrician, who is working in Tanzania, what you would call… third world countries, we face a lot of challenges, but what we have learned over time is not running away from the challenges, but to face them and when you face the challenges, some of them are a little bit hard to overcome, but we have adopted the means of not giving up,” said Dr. Mkopi.
“So before the vaccine, a number of children that you would find in my ward, who would need oxygen support, it was a lot,” recounted Mkopi. “And most of the time you find yourself running out of oxygen because so many kids need [it]. Unlike what you have in the U.S. where you have oxygen plugged in to the walls, we usually use oxygen cylinders and we had some oxygen concentrators…but you know with the electricity shortage in our setup, it can be a bit of a problem. But again we don’t have enough to support every other child who needs it.”
Preventing pneumonia is an important focus of the United Nations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Tackling the disease has played a critical role in global efforts to reduce childhood mortality. The worldwide introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine marks an historic milestone in global health, as these new vaccines have been made accessible in record time to children in the world’s poorest countries.
“I felt so happy that finally what any pediatrician who was practicing in our setup should be happy to see — a pneumococcal vaccine in place so at the end of 2012 it was launched, and by January 2013, children of Tanzania [were getting] the vaccine,” said Mkopi. Mkopi has since become an advocate for child health in the fight against pneumonia and other infectious diseases.
“Being a pediatrician,” said Mkopi, “one would think it’s easy, you have it all sorted out, you’re confident and comfortable with what you see, but again I’m not just a pediatrician, I’m also a parent. I have a child. All these, what I’ve been seeing over the years, it lets me become scared. As a doctor, I am scared of what’s going to happen to my child. So all the time when I talk about pneumonia and all the other diseases in childhood, I think of my child. I think what if that particular child is mine, what would I do? I would do everything and anything to make sure that my child’s health is taken care of.”