Writing in The Times Red Box on 12 November 2018, CFID Chairman Jeremy Lefory and Labour MP Ruth George explains why the campaign to end pneumonia is so close to their hearts and calls for the government to 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.
Our babies have faced the world’s biggest child killer: pneumonia
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 Britain 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 30p. 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 My son developed severe pneumonia in east Africa because we were a long way from any antibiotics. He developed a fever one afternoon, just after his first birthday, in the remote border regions between Tanzania and Kenya.
We knew our baby needed antibiotics, and fast. Stuck where we were in the dark, cut off by broken roads, there was nowhere we could find to get them. We could only listen to our baby’s breathing getting faster 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 antibiotics 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 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 that he 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 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.
Jeremy Lefroy is a Conservative MP and Ruth George is a Labour MP