A new study conducted by the Makerere University Lung Institute (Mli) has indicated that 59% of school-going children with severe symptoms of asthma are not diagnosed.
Asthma, a health condition in which a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus making it difficult to breathe has been identified as the most common non-communicable disease (NCD) in children and adolescents.
According to the Achieving Control of Asthma in Children in Africa (ACACIA) report conducted in ten randomly selected secondary schools in the districts of Mukono, Wakiso, and Kampala during which a total of 895 children between the ages of 12-16 years were screened, 177 children had asthma symptoms representing about 20% of them. This meant that two in every ten students had the condition.
Presenting the ACACIA study findings for Uganda during a meeting held in Kampala, Ms. Rebecca Nantanda the lead research scientist for the project noted that, “Of the 108 children screened with severe asthma symptoms, 64 (about 59%) had no diagnosis”.
She identified symptoms of severe asthma cases including an irritating dry cough, making whoosh sounds while asleep, and shortness of breath among others. The study conducted in five other countries of; Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana was intended to understand and improve the health of children with Asthma in Africa. It was co-funded by the UK Research and Innovation.
While speaking during the release of the study findings for Uganda, Dr. Frank Mugabe, the principal medical officer for NCDs at the Ministry of Health (MoH) said that as of September 2022, the Health Management Information System (HMIS) had registered over 106,000 cases of asthma, a figure he says could be higher as 500,000 cases if enough awareness programs were rolled out.
It is upon this background that he appealed to stakeholders in government and civil society actors to push for a national policy on Chronic Respiratory Diseases (CRDs), whose medicines don’t come cheap.
“Other diseases have policies in place but there is no policy on Chronic Respiratory Diseases (NCDs). Without a policy, government continues to avoid responsibility. If we are to support government we should push for a policy,” said Dr. Mugabe.
Dr. Mugabe also revealed that they (MoH) will soon roll out refresher training for all health workers on how best to diagnose asthma cases given the increasing levels of pollution, especially in urban areas.
“We have asthma included in the Non-Communicable Diseases integration framework guidelines and training materials. So what we need are resources to go out and train these health workers. Refresh them. We believe that they acquire some knowledge about asthma during their formal trainings, but at times that is not enough,” Dr. Mugabe added.
He noted that most health workers in Uganda also need to be acquainted with the recent more effective asthma medicines and treatment forms.
“For example the spirometer, many of our health workers read about it in the books. They don’t know if it’s a computer or what,” he noted.
Relatedly, MoH revealed that they are phasing out the tablet medicines for asthma like the most common Salbutamol tablets for the Salbutamol inhaler because they (tablets) have been found not to be effective.