A study to improve the control of asthma in African children was launched at UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.
The Achieving Control of Asthma in Children in Africa (ACACIA) study, initiated by the Queen Mary University of London, is a R36 million initiative funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in the United Kingdom which will involve 3 000 children aged between 12 and 16 years who have symptoms of asthma.
It will be carried out over three years in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
The British Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa, Mr Ben Llewellyn-Jones, who spoke at the launch, pledged his support for the study.
Professor Jonathan Grigg of the Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute and Director of the NIHR Global Health Research Group also addressed the gathering. ‘We are talking about an asthma prevalence of around 10% to 12% globally but obviously, some countries have higher levels. We are, however, really concerned about the increasing incidence of asthma-related deaths in Africa.’
Head of UKZN’s Pediatrics Department, Professor Refiloe Masekela, who is involved in the project, said the study would examine the severity of asthma and factors impacting asthma control among children. ‘The outcome will then inform future strategies and interventions to reduce morbidity and mortality in affected children in Africa,’ he said.
Masekela said although asthma in African children was previously not thought to be a major health issue, more and more youngsters developed the condition after moving into urban areas.
Recent surveys in schools found that between 10% and 20% of children in sub-Saharan Africa aged 13 to 14 years had ongoing asthma symptoms.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest asthma mortality rates.
‘UKZN is committed to this project,’ said the Dean and Head of Clinical Medicine at UKZN, Professor Ncoza Dlova. ‘This project will hopefully bring solutions for our communities thanks to the NIHR which is funding this research.’
A similar study led by the Queen Mary University found that 46% of young people received sub-optimal asthma control, and that many youngsters faced a range of barriers to good asthma management, including lack of knowledge, forgetfulness and perceived stigma.
ACACIA will use the new African school survey data to design and test the school-based intervention, including the adaption of a stage show written by the Nigerian-born playwright, Tunde Euba, which addresses asthma knowledge and stigma.