Meeting the world’s biggest child killer

By Jeremy Lefroy and Ruth George

We sit on opposite sides of the House of Commons. As two MPs, our politics are different. But there is one experience that unites us: our babies have stared into the eyes of the world’s biggest killer of children.

Pneumonia.

In the UK, pneumonia is a disease that affects the elderly. It has no pin badges, protests or global summits.

Yet this is a disease that kills nearly a million children globally every year. Most of these deaths were preventable. There is a vaccine and a course of antibiotics costs less than 30 pence. But many families have access to neither.

Today we mark World Pneumonia Day by talking about our two baby boys and their brush with death. They were lucky. Our stories are for the millions of infants who were not.

Jeremy Lefroy MP: My son almost died from pneumonia in Tanzania because of a shortage of antibiotics  

My son developed a fever one morning, just shy of his first birthday, in the remote border regions between Tanzania and Kenya. My wife’s a doctor – but it was early evening before she realised he had pneumonia.

 We knew our baby needed antibiotics, fast. Stuck where we were, cut off by broken roads, there was nowhere we could find to get them. We could only listen to our baby gasping for breath, his wheezing getting faster and more strained by the hour. We watched helplessly through the night as he deteriorated.

 As soon as it was light, we set off and eventually found a pharmacy. Within a couple of hours of taking some medicine our son’s breathing was almost back to normal. The change was almost instantaneous. I’m just thankful we had the money to buy antibiotics, and the car to find them, or it would have been a very different ending.

Ruth George MP: My son would have lost his fight against pneumonia if it hadn’t been for our free healthcare system

Just like Jeremy, I know how fast pneumonia strikes and how dangerous it can be. My fourth child, Danny, was born at our local birthing unit. We took him home the same day.

A few days later, he wasn’t waking up for feeds. We returned to the hospital, where Danny suddenly developed a raging temperature. He wanted to feed but couldn’t. He would scream and couldn’t bear to be held. It was incredibly scary. I ached to comfort him.

Four hours after his temperature shot up, it was confirmed Danny had pneumonia and would need a course of intravenous antibiotics. I wasn’t allowed to hold him and could only watch while his tiny body fought the disease.

As a newborn, Danny had a tough fight even though he received treatment immediately. If it had taken more than a day to get to a hospital, I’m not sure he would have survived.  But we have a healthcare system that could treat him quickly with lifesaving medicine.

 

As two MPs, from two different parties, we’re united in our belief that no child should die from a preventable disease. UK Aid is helping to make this a reality – but there is more work to do. The UK Government should prioritise aid that lowers the cost of vaccines and supports countries to invest in their own healthcare systems. So that families like ours don’t have to suffer.