DESPITE the fact that asthma is one of the leading killer diseases in Zimbabwe, as in many parts of the developing world, there’s very little public health programming to increase awarensss or manage the issue. Asthma is largely treated as a private health matter, not warranting public attention. To prove this, there is very little public campaigning done on the disease.
According to the WHO data published in April 2011, asthma deaths in Zimbabwe reached 662 or 0.39% of total deaths. The age adjusted death rate is 10.80 per 100,000 of population ranks Zimbabwe number 57 most affected country in the world.
According to Dr Nils E Billo, Executive Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), the disease affects around 235 million people worldwide. Like Zimbabwe, many countries around the wolrd allocate very little funding for managing asthma in their populations.
Asthma is a disorder that causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swells. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by.
In sensitive people, asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in allergy-causing substances (called allergens or triggers). Common asthma triggers include:
- Animals (pet hair or dander)
- Changes in weather (most often cold weather)
- Chemicals in the air or in food
- Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
- Strong emotions (stress)
- Tobacco smoke
According to WHO, the causes of asthma are not completely understood. However, risk factors for developing asthma include inhaling asthma “triggers”, such as allergens, tobacco smoke and chemical irritants. Asthma cannot be cured, but appropriate management can control the disorder and enable people to enjoy a good quality of life.
In Zimbabwe, as in many low-income countries, the large majority of asthma patients are only treated on an emergency basis – when they arrive at a health care facility or hospital with an acute attack of asthma.
Part of the problem in these countries is that quality-assured asthma inhalers, especially the inhaled corticosteroids that are essential to well-managed asthma, are not available. If they are available, the cost is usually prohibitively expensive. Another barrier is that the health services lack the strategy, systems and trained staff for providing good asthma care.
There is a need for the government in Zimbabwe, as in many parts of the developing world, to recognize asthma as a matter warranting attention from public health systems.