The single largest killer of children under age five is pneumonia. This lung infection kills about two million children each year, mostly in developing countries.
In developed countries, most pneumonia cases are caused by viruses. But in the developing world, about sixty percent are caused by bacteria. These cases can be treated with antibiotic drugs.
The World Health Organization currently says children with severe pneumonia should be admitted to a hospital and given injectable antibiotics. But many poor families do not have the money for a hospital or live too far away.
Now, new research could lead to a change in that advice. A study in Pakistan found that children with severe pneumonia can recover fully at home taking antibiotics by mouth. The study is in the Lancet medical journal.
The W.H.O. and the United States Agency for International Development paid for the study. It was done in five Pakistani cities by the School of Public Health at Boston University.
The research involved more than 2,000 children between three and five years old. Half received intravenous antibiotics during a forty-eight-hour hospital stay. The others were sent home to take antibiotics for five days.
The treatment failed in eighty-seven children in the hospitalized group and seventy-seven in the home group. These children were then given another therapy.
During the study, five children died, four of them in the hospital group.
W.H.O. medical officer Shamim Qazi says the new findings will help children, families and hospitals. Children may get other infections in a hospital. Many hospitals are already overcrowded. And treatment at home would be less costly.
The study confirmed the findings of three other studies in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. These showed that in hospitals, oral antibiotics were just as effective as injectable antibiotics in treating severe pneumonia in children.
A few cases are so severe they will still need hospital care. But Doctor Qazi says the W.H.O will be updating its guidelines this year with the new evidence.
Boston University professor Donald Thea led the research in Pakistan. Doctor Thea says a change could lead to new training for community health workers. If they learn how to treat severe pneumonia in young children locally, then more children are likely to survive.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. Our reports are on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Faith Lapidus.