Updated 12 September 2016

South Africa has world’s fourth highest asthma death rate

According to a recent report by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five to 35 year olds.

According to a recent report by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five to 35 year olds.  Of the estimated 3.9 million South Africans with asthma, 1.5% die of this condition annually.

The disease is characterised by varying degrees of severity of airflow limitation and chronic inflammation of the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath.

“Asthma prevalence in Southern Africa is higher than any other area on the continent, with more than 20% of school children across the region suffering from this condition. In South Africa asthma is the third most common cause of hospital admissions of children, yet only 2% of asthmatics receive treatment,” says Cipla Medpro Medical Director, Dr Nic de Jongh.

To address this problem, Cipla Medpro recently launched its Asthma Education initiative, Breathe Free. The initiative, which follows the asthma treatment guidelines as set out by GINA and other reputable bodies, will serve to educate South Africans on this condition which affects more than 300 million people worldwide. Breathe Free clinics will be accessible at healthcare facilities and pharmacies nationwide.

Pulmonologist, Dr Justus Kilian says the high death rate of asthma sufferers in South Africa is likely to reflect the living conditions conducive to asthma aggravation. He says that the socio-economic disparity in access to quality healthcare may also be one of the reasons affecting asthma diagnosis and treatment.

“Asthma diagnosis and treatment is often inadequate, especially because there are many misconceptions about the disease and how it should be treated, one being that asthmatics usually outgrow the disease, however, asthmatic triggers can occur only later in life. Educating the public and patients will certainly encourage the adherence to action plans, which will lead to reporting of symptoms long before an emergency situation will develop,” Kilian explains.

Kilian notes that it is important to understand the cause of the condition. “Asthma is a form of bronchitis caused by an allergic inflammation, which means that the bronchi and the lower airways of the respiratory system become inflamed to irritants and allergens.  This response to irritants and allergens, which are largely influenced by genetics, can be triggered by environmental conditions, like pet dander, pollens, fungal spores, air pollution; and occupational exposures, such as spray painting.”

Through the Breathe Free initiative, individuals will be able to visit or be referred by their doctor to Breathe Free centres where healthcare staff will educate and advise patients on their condition; address symptoms and causes; teach the correct technique to use an asthma device and offer an asthma screening facility

“The burden of this disease on governments, healthcare systems and families is increasing worldwide, especially in South Africa.  Yet, people with asthma can lead normal lives today without having to compromise their lifestyle. This campaign aims to educate and show individuals and families facing this problem that this is possible,” concludes de Jongh.

(Epic Communications, September 2012)

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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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