Updated 12 July 2016

Asthma: a needless killer of our time

Many people have asthma without knowing it. If you regularly wheeze and feel breathless, you could be one of them. Here’s why it’s important to find out.


More than 300 million people worldwide are thought to be affected by asthma. Another alarming statistic from the Global Initiative for Asthma Report: worldwide, asthma causes 346 000 deaths per year.

And when it comes to reported asthma deaths, South Africa is in fourth place, worldwide. Between six and 10 percent of adult South Africans have asthma, according to the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ).

This condition, especially when it is undiagnosed and untreated, which is often the case in our country, can be deadly.

The 2014 Global Asthma Report says that almost 300 people in every million in SA will die from asthma symptoms every year.

So why do so many South Africans die from asthma, when medication is available at state facilities for the treatment and management of this chronic disease?

Many people simply don’t recognise the symptoms, have never been diagnosed, or do not use the medication as prescribed. According to the SAMJ, by the time they get to the hospital, patients’ symptoms are acute and sometimes problematic to treat.

But the blame cannot be placed on patients alone: our health system is overwhelmed by with HIV-related lung diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, and asthma and its dangers are often under-appreciated, according to the SAMJ. They go on to say that many patients also do not use asthma treatment correctly.

This is why awareness campaigns about asthma in South Africa are so crucial. In February, the WHO’s attention is focused on respiratory health, and by means of its Breathefree campaign, Cipla, the pharmaceutical company with the largest respiratory health portfolio in the world, aims to make its contribution to increase awareness of this treatable and controllable condition.

Cipla’s Golden Thread, “Quality and affordable healthcare for all” speaks of the company’s concern that asthma continues to be a killer in our country. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Awareness, education and accessible information can turn this around. This needs to involve parents, patients, doctors, support groups and teachers, who all need to be able to recognise the symptoms and take appropriate action. Cipla aims to continue making a contribution on all levels in order to make this happen.

For more information, visit the website of the National Asthma Education Programme.


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Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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