Sunday, 17 March 2013

Out of Manchester and In to Africa

According to the wonderfully entitled Knowledge and Intelligence office at the Department of Health there are 423 paediatric critical care beds available in the UK. For most of the time some 80% of these (331) are occupied. Additionally, there are some 1365 neo-natal critical care beds. I mention this as last Sunday; just a week ago, I was sitting by one of these beds in the 21 bedded Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Manchester Children’s Hospital.

I was there because my youngest grandson had been admitted a week before with pneumonia and he had spent the previous week sedated and ventilated. Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli (little air sacs) become filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake.

Pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide. Every year, it kills an estimated 1.2 million children below the age of 5 years old. These deaths account for 18% of all deaths of children under 5 years old worldwide. Pneumonia affects children and families everywhere, but is most prevalent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Whilst some types of pneumonia (that caused by bacteria) can be treated with antibiotics, around only 30% of children with pneumonia living in Africa receive the antibiotics they need. The cost of antibiotic treatment for all children with pneumonia in 42 of the world's poorest countries is estimated by the World Health Organisation at around £398 million per year. Treating pneumonia in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – which account for 85% of deaths – would cost a third of this total, at around £133 million. The price includes the antibiotics themselves, as well as the cost of training health workers, which strengthens the health systems as a whole.

Last Friday it was Red Nose Day and among the music and fun of the night there were very moving films on the effects of malaria, pneumonia and starvation in Africa. The last Red Nose Day, 2 years ago, raised £74.3 million, a figure exceeded this year by the on the night total so far of £75,107,851. At least £5 million of this figure is to be dedicated for vaccination programmes for pneumonia.

Thankfully, my grandson is slowly on the mend and now rapidly passing through the various levels of in-patient care. Its interesting to see that as the dependency level of each clinical area is reduced so the number of nursing staff per patient also gets smaller, 1-1 in the ICU, 1-2 in HDU, 1-4 in the general medical ward. But many thanks to all the staff at Manchester Children’s Hospital – it was so good to see our University of Salford nurses, students and qualified staff demonstrating such high quality care. And huge thanks to neighbours Mac and Judith, who over the past 2 weeks have ensured the chickens got their daily greens, Billy the parrot, his sunflower seeds and Cello his daily walks and fat free yogurt when work and hospital visits made all of these things difficult to achieve.