Lowering the risk of pneumonia

Getting the annual flu shot is a way to reduce the risk from the flu and pneumonia, according to the American Lung Association.  

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pneumococcal vaccination for all children younger than 5 years old and all adults 65 years or older. In certain situations, other children and adults should also get pneumococcal vaccines. At-risk individuals should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia.  

“The COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic clearly demonstrated how vaccination can save millions of lives. All stakeholders need to work together to promote awareness on pneumonia and the value of vaccination. Each one of us can be a hero in the fight against pneumonia,” said Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) at an event supported by MSD Philippines and the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) in line with World Pneumonia Day on Nov. 12. 

Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection of the lungs that is most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria. Depending on the severity of the pneumonia, signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include cough; shortness of breath; fever, sweating and shaking chills; fatigue; chest pain; nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; and confusion, especially in older adults. 

While it can cause mild to life-threatening illness in people of all ages, pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  

The WHO reiterated that pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition, and addressing environmental factors. Preventing pneumonia means lowering the risk of complications and even deaths due to this highly-preventable disease. 

In the Philippines, pneumonia is the third leading cause of death across all ages and is the most common cause of death among children under 5 years of age. 

On the other hand, getting the recommended vaccines can significantly lower a person’s risk of developing pneumonia. One of the serious complications of the flu is pneumonia. 

“Vaccination is empowering. It protects children against pneumonia and reduces its severity when they do get sick, enabling them to spend more time studying and playing. Parents also save on healthcare expenses for medicines and hospitalization. We reiterate our appeal to parents to bring their children to the nearest health center for their free pneumonia vaccination,” said National Immunization Program (NIP) Manager Dr. Kim Patrick Tejano. 

He added that through the NIP, the Department of Health (DoH) provides free pneumonia vaccination to the vulnerable population. “We have expanded our pneumonia immunization to include children under 2 years of age who are given at least 3 doses of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Our senior citizens who are 60 years and older are given one dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. Our goal is to reach at least 95% vaccination coverage,” said Dr. Tejano. 

Dr. Beverly Lorraine C. Ho, OIC-Undersecretary of the DoH Public Health Services Team, highlighted that if no action is taken today, millions of adults and children will be lost to pneumonia globally over the next decade. 

Pneumonia cases have consistently accounted for the highest claims that PhilHealth pays every year, according to Dr. Israel Pargas, senior vice-president at Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).  

“In 2021, we paid almost P3 billion for pneumonia. For 2022, as of the month of June, we have paid P1.7 billion already for pneumonia. For COVID-related pneumonia, we paid more than P10 billion in 2021 and this year we have already paid around P15 billion,” he said. 

PhilHealth provides both outpatient and inpatient benefits for pneumonia. Part of the agency’s outpatient package is the “Konsultasyong Sulit at Tama” which covers eight diseases including mild cases of pneumonia.  

The package covers consultation, diagnostics such as x-ray, and medications including antibiotics. For patients with pneumonia requiring hospitalization, PhilHealth provides case-rate packages, the coverage of which depends on disease severity. 

“Through the Universal Health Care Law, PhilHealth is hoping to expand our benefit packages including for pneumonia, which we are currently reviewing to rationalize the rates. Aligned with UHC and our thrust on prevention, we want to make primary healthcare our foundation by shifting from specialist care to primary care and coming up with a more comprehensive primary care package,” said Dr. Pargas.  

As the DoH is focusing now on population-based health services particularly on prevention, health promotion, and immunization, PhilHealth will focus on individual-based health services such as diagnostics and medications.

Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.