Surely, everybody has heard of the devastating effects of HIV or malaria or even tuberculosis in sub Saharan Africa. Needless to say that these diseases are not to be taken lightly or to be underestimated. Many of you know for a fact that countries such as South Africa have a considerable rate of HIV in their population. But did you know that South Africa had also one of the highest rates of asthma? Did you know that asthma affects the continent just as much as any of the other diseases mentioned above? Did you know that asthma touches sub Saharan Africa and low- to middle- income countries more than developed countries? I would guess not.
Asthma is a condition characterized by inflammation of the airways inside your lungs. This inflammation can lead to restrictions in your air supply and symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. The consistent increase of its prevalence in Africa is associated with factors such as tobacco smoke, viral infection, air pollution, chemical irritants, diet, and well-known allergens such as house dust mite, cockroach, dog and cat dander, and even washing soap.
The only way to stop its increase is to start raising awareness on chronic diseases and fully explain the ways in which these diseases, such as asthma, can be constrained and managed.
Asthma is unfortunately under diagnosed and is one of those illnesses that fly under the radar when it comes to Africa. It is time to put it on the agenda and actively campaign against it.
Just like in most cases, ignorance is our worst enemy. The earlier we know about it, how to prevent it or limit it and the earlier we can stop its growth.
In 2005, there were 250,000 deaths from asthma and more than three million from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Ninety percent of all COPD deaths were in low- and middle- income countries.
A lot of the blame must be placed on societal behaviors. Indeed, asthma tends to affect more urbanized part of Africa than villages. Some of the reasons behind this lay in the economical increase of such urbanized region, which then lead to a change in diet and physical activities.
The danger of tobacco smoke, benefits of a healthy diet and physical activities are not necessarily promoted in Africa. Smoking is bad for your health, eating healthy is crucial; exercising is complementary to good health. Simple truths that many developed countries take for granted are still widely ignored by the health industry in the continent, when they could improve and save so many lives.
It is time to be proactive and work towards a drastic change when it comes to Africa and its approach to chronic diseases. A child diagnosed with asthma can live a long and happy life when treated properly medically and socially.
For more information on asthma:
Van Gemert, F., Van der Molen, T., Jones, R. & Chavannes, N. (2011) The impact of asthma and COPD in sub Saharan Africa. Clinical Review. 20(3), pp. 240 – 248.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Engage Africa Foundation's staff.