Asthma needs serious attention in Ghana

Bernard Appiah, Ghana
(First published in Joy Online, Ghana on 17th May 2013): Many adults in Ghana with asthma—a disease that causes swelling of the airways of the lungs and thus make the airways become narrow—usually know very well such symptoms as wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. But researchers trying to establish the factors that influence asthma in Ghana, especially in adults, have very little information on the disease. Most studies have focused on asthma among individuals aged 5 to 16 years and therefore very little information on risk factors associated with asthma among adults in Ghana is known, says Abena S. Amoah, principal Research Assistant at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, and colleagues in a research to identify studies on asthma in Ghana.

Findings of the research were published in the June 2012 issue of the Ghana Medical Journal. “Socio-clinical studies examining patient care, perceptions, psychosocial factors surrounding asthma and possible interventions to improve asthma management are also needed. Furthermore, a quantitative analysis of the economic burden of asthma on individuals as well as the Ghanaian economy is also essential,” the researchers add.

It turns out that adults with asthma in Ghana have a favorite destination. “Many such patients go to community pharmacies to buy over-the-counter medicines,” says Frank Boateng, a Pharmacist and Managing Director of Fabby Chemists, a community pharmacy in Accra.

Because many people with the mild form of asthma can routinely obtain over-the-counter medicines and get relief from their symptoms, asthma appears not to have attracted serious attention in Ghana. More needs to be done to help address asthma in Ghana.

Some people may die because of having an asthma attack and not getting timely medicines and care, says Dr Karen Bissell, Deputy Coordinator, Asthma Drug Facility (ADF), International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), who co-authored Global Asthma Report 2011 chapters on asthma and poverty, and the economic burden of asthma.

There are 235 million estimated asthma patients worldwide and most of them are far from reaching the standard treatment, says Christophe Perrin, Pharmacist and Coordinator, Asthma Drug Facility (ADF).

Perrin told India-based Citizen News Service (CNS) that the percentage of adults which are reported for asthma over the past years has been increasing significantly partly because adults with asthma were not aware of these asthmatic conditions.

Lack of awareness of the disease has motivated Ghana-based non-profit organization, Hope for Future Generations, to do more education on the disease. “Many people don't know that they have asthma, and those who know too tend to rely on herbal medicines to manage it at home,” says Cecilia Senoo, Executive Director, Hope for Future Generations.

But Senoo says her outfit recognizes the need to provide integrative care for both asthma and tuberculosis, so as they educate people on tuberculosis, they also educate them on asthma.

The control of asthma in many developing countries, including Ghana, hinges on better education about the disease and its treatment, appropriate diagnoses, availability of standard treatment guidelines, adequate numbers of health care professionals, and availability of affordable medicines, particularly inhalers, according to experts.

Frank Boateng, the Pharmacist and Managing Director of Fabby Chemists, said in his interaction with patients with asthma who use inhalers, he finds that many do not know how to use them, and that is a worrisome. “It is the responsibility of pharmacists to ensure that patients know how to use the inhalers,” he said.

Proper asthma education should include knowledge of when people with asthma have their warning signs, and knowing when they have to go to the healthcare facilities for help, Perrin adds.

Access to appropriate medicines to manage asthma is a major concern. Such medicines are usually of two types, says Perrin. One type is called bronchodilators or those that dilate the parts of the lungs known as bronchi and bronchioles, and thereby increase airflow to the lungs. The other type, known as inhaled corticosteroids, is capable of healing the swelling of lungs associated with asthma.

Perrin said The Union is really trying to push forward in as many developing countries as possible. Also through the AFD, inhaled corticosteroids become largely unavailable in these countries partly because they are needed to cure swelling of the lungs associated with asthma, he said. “We need to ensure availability and accessibility of affordable and quality assured medicines for all people with asthma,” adds Perrin

Bernard Appiah, Ghana 
Citizen News Service - CNS 
(First published in Joy Online, Ghana on 17th May 2013)