An oxygenated solution to pneumonia deaths in Pacific children

Improving oxygen access as a treatment for pneumonia in Tonga

Associate Professor Stephen Howie
University of Auckland

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Pneumonia is a serious lung infection, and is the leading cause of death in children in the Pacific and worldwide, with around a million lives lost a year.

Child deaths are reducing, but not quickly enough. Under five mortality rates in the Oceania/Pacific region have only reduced from 34 (1990), to 25 (2013) per 1,000 births.

Reducing deaths from pneumonia is a key to improving child survival in the Pacific. Improving access to oxygen has been shown to reduce mortality from childhood pneumonia by 35%, but getting oxygen to the children who need it in the Pacific is a huge challenge both logistically and financially.


What is this project hoping to achieve?

This project’s aim is to test and refine an oxygen delivery system that will operate 24/7 with little maintenance and limited or absent mains power. It will build on the experience gained through Associate Professor Howie’s work in Africa with the Medical Research Council. The project will also gather relevant situational data from various sites across the Pacific.

The proposed site for implementation is Tonga, where paediatric services are led by Dr George Aho who is a highly respected paediatrician, well-known to his New Zealand colleagues. The specific site will be selected together with the Tongan Ministry of Health. In early 2014, Ha’apai in Tonga suffered severe damage from Cyclone Ian, and it is the busy hospital there that may be the focus of the project.
Local clinical and biomedical engineering staff will be engaged in the project, enhancing sustainability and local ownership.

No child should die due to lack of oxygen. This pilot has great upscaling potential if successful, and could likely reach thousands of children suffering from pneumonia and other severe illnesses requiring oxygen.