Lest We Forget: Adults too are vulnerable to pneumococcal pneumonia

15 Nov 2023 09:29am
Picture for illustrative purposes - FILE PIX
Picture for illustrative purposes - FILE PIX

In a significant move to combat the alarming rise in pneumonia-related deaths in Malaysia, six prominent medical professional bodies joined forces to launch the 'Prevent Pneumococcal Pneumonia' (PPP) initiative on World Pneumonia Day this year. The initiative is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of pneumococcal vaccination for older individuals and high-risk adults, aiming to tackle the root cause of the disease.

The Pneumonia Crisis in Malaysia

Pneumonia has consistently ranked among the top three causes of deaths in Malaysia for over a decade, with approximately one in ten deaths in 2021 attributed to this respiratory illness. The PPP Initiative Chairman Professor Dr Zamberi Sekawi emphasided that pneumococcal bacteria, accounting for 27 per cent of pneumonia cases globally, poses a significant threat, particularly to vulnerable groups such as young children, older individuals, and adults with underlying health conditions.

Despite widespread awareness campaigns focused on protecting children from pneumonia, adults remain equally susceptible, often overlooked in public health discussions.

The PPP Initiative Launch: A Multifaceted Approach

During the official launch, Dr Zamberi highlighted the multifaceted approach of the PPP Initiative, intending to make pneumococcal vaccination a standard of care among healthcare professionals and a norm among the public. Activities targeting healthcare professionals include the publication of vaccination recommendations, on-site interactive training, and online courses. Simultaneously, a public awareness campaign, including a dedicated website and a clinic directory for pneumococcal vaccination, aims to reach a broader audience.

Government Support and Vaccination Initiatives

Health Ministr Head of Internal Medicine Dr Cheah Wee Kooi stressed that vaccination not only protects individuals but also contributes to reducing antimicrobial resistance. In response to the rising threat, the ministry has initiated pneumococcal vaccination for all Malaysian children born since 2018. Additionally, the government offers tax relief up to RM1,000 for vaccination spending on individuals and their families.

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Vulnerable Adults and Vaccination Urgency

Associate Professor Dr Pang Yong Kek emphasised the urgent need for public awareness regarding the vulnerability of adults to pneumococcal pneumonia. A 2021 survey conducted by the Malaysian Thoracic Society revealed low awareness, with only 24 per cent and 26 per cent of respondents believing that older persons and adults with underlying medical conditions should receive pneumococcal vaccination.

Expert Opinions and Individual Risk Factors

Various medical representatives, including infectious disease physicians, family medicine specialists, and geriatricians, underscored the heightened risk for immunocompromised adults and those with chronic diseases. Dr Sally Suriani Ahip highlighted the increased risk associated with diabetes, while Dr Lim Hong Tak stressed the potential financial burden on older persons due to pneumonia-related hospital admissions.

The Way Forward: A Collective Effort

Dr Muruga Raj, a general practitioner and representative of the Malaysian Medical Association, emphasised the pivotal role of prevention over treatment. Beyond vaccination, encouraging lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, vaping, and excessive alcohol consumption is crucial in reducing the risk of pneumococcal infection and pneumonia.

As the PPP Initiative gains momentum, medical professionals, government bodies, and the public join hands to address the pervasive issue of pneumonia, striving for a healthier and more resilient Malaysia.

For more information on the 'Prevent Pneumococcal Pneumonia' Initiative, visit preventpneumonia.com.my.