Fighting for breath

Sarah Ruteri, aged 14 months, is a survivor. A few months ago, I saw her admitted to the pediatric ward of Lodwar hospital in northern Kenya’s drought-affected Turkana district. Suffering from severe pneumonia, Sarah was gasping for breath – and fighting for her life.

Her tiny ribcage was convulsed by a losing struggle to get air into her lungs. Doctors told her mother to expect the worst. But with a combination of oxygen therapy and intravenous antibiotics, Sarah pulled through. Others are not so lucky. Over half of the 25 children on the ward in Lodwar the day I visited had pneumonia. Three of them died within a week. All of them could have survived if their condition had been diagnosed and treated early enough. The life and death struggles played out in Lodwar hospital are a microcosm of the world’s most neglected public health crisis – and a reminder of what is at stake in the drive to achieve universal health coverage. —