ZIMBABWE is among six countries participating in a study to assess the prevalence as well as control of asthma in children aged between 12 and 14 years a team of researchers from the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences starts it in September when schools open.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
The research, a first of its kind in the country will be done in conjunction with the Health and Care Ministry, City of Harare Health Department.
Under the banner of a multinational project dubbed Achieving Controlled Asthma In Children In Africa (Acacia) launched in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, Queen Mary University in the United Kingdom is the lead research institution.
“It’s a web based study that means we will be using internet. The foreign researcher is Professor Jonathan Grigg, he is from the UK, myself the local PI, Professor Mujuru is helping me as well and our study coordinator Naison Kurwaisimba. We have Melinda Moyo.
“We have other nurses from the pediatric division as well. Like we said it’s a multinational project. You can see other countries that are involved. There is Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi and us Zimbabwe. So we are all part of this study in collaboration with the main university,Queen Mary University in the UK,” said Dr Ismail Ticklay from the UZ.
He also bemoaned the lack of attention given to this condition
“Asthma is very important and very underdiagnosed. Sometimes undertreated, you might not know that it’s there for many years. It actually causes a lot of burden among many people. Non communicable diseases need more emphasis on it. Asthma is one of those non communicable diseases which is under the radar that need to be brought to the front and diagnosed early and treated early. It cannot be cured but is very controllable,” said Dr Ticklay.
“Let me just go ahead and tell you about this study, or this project that we are doing. Its actually the study of asthma in the control and knowledge. So a lot of people don’t know about asthma, so you need to know what asthma especially in the schools is.”
He also said they will work with the schools and the University of Zimbabwe’s Theatre department as well as other thespians.
Professor Hilda Mujuru concurred with Dr Ticklay that there is a deafening silence on Asthma.
“When we talk about diseases, there are diseases we don’t know about. Diseases that people talk about every day. Now adays they talk about HIV, and everyone will know and everyone is aware of it. If we talk about malaria, even hypertension, the diseases we call non-communicable diseases, people know about BP.
“But asthma is hardly talked about. People actually believe that there isn’t much prevalence of asthma among Zimbabweans. But we actually have a lot of asthma. So we are looking at asthma as one of the neglected diseases. Diseases not given proper attention as a public health concern in children and even the adults. A lot of kids suffer from asthma. Even a lot of adults suffer from asthma,”she said.
She also said the problem with asthma is that it is different from BP where one has a headache, or a stroke.
“With asthma, you can start by coughing. There might be nothing other than the cough. So there are a lot of people whom we live with who cough yet you don’t know they have asthma. There will just be the assumption that he or she coughs and get the label that they cough,” Prof Mujuru added.
Prof Mujuru added that some people have been misdiagnosed and given TB Treatment.
“No one has done anything beyond the cough to find out what is happening. I know of people with who have been put on TB treatment. Some health workers when they see someone coughing, they assume it’s TB. TB is there but asthma makes people cough as well. I just want us to realise that asthma is a burden amongst us and is something that we have not being giving due attention,” she said.
Health and Child Care Ministry Family Health Director Dr Bendard Madzima said they have been focusing much on communicable diseases citing there is limited funding to look at non-communicable diseases.
“It is an honour to be here at the launch of the acacia project which is achieving control of asthma in children in Africa. So as the ministry of health and childcare, we are aware that our programs of public health in terms of non-communicable diseases, which asthma is part of, most of our programs are really lagging behind.
“Most of our programs as ministry of health and childcare tend to look at communicable diseases like HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria. So we are quite excited when we have such programs because we know that most people in our communities mainly seek care at individual levels. So for asthma, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, we are still lagging behind in terms of public health interventions. And mainly its because the funding is limited,” he said.