You can control Asthma

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
While many non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are associated with stigma, discrimination and fear it has notably been of interest that people living with asthma actually get cool nicknames associated with this disease. A chat with Joseph Jele (name changed), a 49 year old male telephone technician, revealed that from his teenage years he has been nick-named ‘Wizzy Joe’, due to the wheezing fits he used to get when playing with other young boys. This is an identity he has carried with him through adulthood and, as he jokingly noted, will carry it to his grave.

While other young men would run around kicking a plastic buffed soccer ball on the neighbourhood dusty streets, Joseph used to sit on the sidelines, cheering and shouting instructions and carrying water bottles and other knickknacks for his friends. Joseph is twice divorced with two daughters from his first marriage. He had always wondered why his two marriages ended. During our discussion, he shared that there is a high possibility that his weak sexual performance due to his asthma could have led to both his ex-wives cheating on him.  He also noted that he never thought it necessary to get his children screened for asthma— it was never a life threatening disease like TB and HIV/AIDS for which there were numerous awareness campaigns. This, unfortunately, is the true picture of how asthma is viewed— both by the general public and health practitioners.

At a lively webinar hosted by CNS, Dr Jeremiah Chakaya, from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), noted that most often asthma is under treated because it does not kill as often as other NCDs like cancer and heart disease do. Dr Chakaya also explained that there has been little or no investment in the past three decades for NCDs like asthma, due to greater focus of governments and civil society on HIV-AIDS and TB. Unfortunately, three decades later the ugly repercussions of this neglect are showing and it will require a long period to kick-start advocacy for diseases like asthma, before we can reap the benefits. World Asthma Day, which is celebrated on the 3rd of May every year, is an opportune time to revive commitment towards management of asthma through
  • Public health education on screening, preventing and managing asthma
  • Bringing asthma on the global health agenda, and bringing the  cost of medication down and increasing access to care
  • Motivating donor agencies to invest in education and management of asthma
  • Encouraging governments to invest and revamp health strategies towards asthma management
It is of concern to note that the impact of asthma is not just on the physical health of an individual. Dr Chakaya mentioned that asthma also impacts a person

1.Socially- asthma limits and/or excludes its victims from some active social activities
2.Physiologically- asthma can result in weak sexual performance, and hence affect relationships and family   life. Children with asthma cannot play like other children
3.Economically- asthma attacks can result in poor work performance, limited job options and substantial healthcare costs

These challenges can be reversed and minimized through reducing air pollution which is a leading trigger factor for asthma, especially managing current use of fossil fuels as well as influencing food and agriculture production towards healthy foods— this was noted by Priya Kanayson, Advocacy Officer at the NCD Alliance. In collaboration with use of the effective inhaled therapy, appropriate use of preventer and reliever drugs, patients education and up to date healthcare workers, we can control asthma.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
May 6, 2016