New Project Aims to Tackle Asthma in African Schoolchildren
A £2 million research project led by Queen Mary University of London will help tackle asthma in African schoolchildren, a condition that is becoming a major health issue in the continent.
The research will be conducted in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe and will involve 3 000 children aged between 12 and 14 years who have symptoms of asthma.
Recent surveys have found that over 20% of South African schoolchildren aged 13 to 14 have ongoing asthma symptoms, and the number of African schoolchildren with asthma has increased by over 15 million since 1990. But to date, there has been a lack of evidence to tackle the issue.
Lead researcher, Professor Jonathan Grigg, from Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute, argues that this increase can be attributed to urbanisation. ‘The number of children in sub-Saharan Africa who live in urban areas is rapidly increasing. These children are developing diseases of urbanisation such as asthma. However, very little is known about the severity of asthma in African children. Working with leading paediatricians across Africa, this grant will allow us to describe the burden of asthma in children and the reasons underlying poor asthma control,’ he said.
The study will involve the University of KwaZulu-Natal as well as universities in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
‘Asthma in South African children remains a challenging condition, with prevalence rates reaching 20% in urban and rural populations,’ said Professor Refiloe Masekela also from UKZN. ‘An unsettling problem is the under recognition and therefore poor management of asthma, particularly in urban children who have severe asthma symptoms. Research towards recognising the asthma burden and identifying reasons related to poor asthma control will support advocacy for effective asthma treatment and care in these vulnerable children,’ she said.
The three-year project is funded by the UK Government’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
The researchers will conduct surveys in African schools to assess asthma control and treatment, attitudes to asthma and the barriers to achieving good control. They will use the new data to design and test a school-based intervention which will include the adaptation of an existing theatre performance, written by the Nigerian-born playwright Tunde Euba, which addresses understanding and stigma around asthma.
Words: Lihle Sosibo
Photograph: Supplied by the AHRI