Children with asthma: A mother’s nightmare

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
“My worst fear is what will happen to my two children if I am ever unable to be around to take care of them”, says Khabonina Masina, a mother of 5 and 3 year old boys. Her children showed signs of asthma from as early as when they were 12 and 9 months old respectively, and since then her life has never been the same. Her daily routine has been disrupted by her children’s health, late night hospital visits, absenteeism at work to attend emergency calls from the children’s pre-school and the constant changing of child- minders who cannot manage the care and attention required by her children.

The month of May is particularly bad. It ushers in the cold winter air which increases occurrence of colds and flu, a major trigger for asthma in children. While for most parents this is just a winter bug, for Khabonina it is the time when she has to frequent the hospital’s outpatients’ department with her boys-- most of the times at odd hours of the night.

Khabonina fears that a day will come when she might lose her job due to the increased absenteeism when her children are unwell, already she has had to, a time when she may have to choose between being there for her children and being at work to make a living for them. Her medical expenses are already mounting, what with having to purchase refills for inhalers as there were not available in the government hospital pharmacy.

This is just but one parent’s somber life experience with asthma; there are many more untold stories which warrant that, in this month of May, dedicated to asthma care and control, new commitments are made to increase awareness and healthcare systems’ readiness to manage asthma.

While asthma is an incurable chronic lung condition, it is a condition of management. According to Global Asthma Report, higher quality of life can still be maintained with proper treatment and routine check-ups. However, this is a luxury that most asthmatic patients living in low and middle income countries, like Swaziland, do not have. Healthcare is manly sought when one is already sick and when the condition is thought to have become beyond home remedy. Further, healthcare facilities do not always have medication in stock. In addition, as Professor Guy Marks of the University of Sydney and a member of the Board of Directors at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, notes, “Doctors only see a patient once and may not have enough observation time to diagnose asthma”.

Basic information for asthma management is not always readily available and most often patients seek hospital care after all home remedies seem to have failed. Following basic care like vaccination for influenza and pneumonia; avoiding personal attack triggers;  responding immediately to an attack; and taking medication and using the inhaler as prescribed can go a long way to improve quality of life with asthma.

In the meantime, while asthmatic patients may have difficulties avoiding some common triggers such as cold air, allergens, viruses and exercise, Prof Marks encourages that efforts can be made to avoid smoking, exposure to cigarette smoke and occupational sensitizers.

More awareness about the disease at community level and better management at healthcare facility level can definitely improve lives of people living with asthma--whether old or young.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
17 May 2015