Of late malaria, HIV/Aids and cancer have been the most feared life-threatening diseases but asthma has now become one of the five top killer diseases in the world, likely to assume the third slot soon.
Health experts attribute an increasing trend of asthma cases in the country with the polluted air inhaled, causing damage of body air paths. In Tanzania, the prevalence of asthma as studied ranges from two percent to 15 percent in different sections of the population.
While the survey conducted in 1997 showed around 1.9 per cent to 5.2 percent of children had asthma, another survey done in 2000 in Ifakara district reported the prevalence of children aged four years having asthma to be around 14 per cent.
In 2006 the overall prevalence of asthma in Ilala district of Dar es Salaam region was 15.3 per cent, but a study conducted in Manyara region in 2009 showed prevalence of 24 percent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 235 million people currently suffer from asthma. According to WHO, asthma is the most common chronic disease among children.
“Asthma is a public health problem not just for high-income countries. It occurs in all countries regardless of the level of development. Most asthma-related deaths occur in low and lower middle income countries,” the WHO report states.
Meshack Shimwela, the president of the Association of Physicians in Tanzania (APHTA) noted at a training session in Dar es Salaam for hundreds doctors from various places in the country this week on asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The training was conducted by Chest Research Foundation (CRF) and sponsored by Salama Pharmaceuticals Limited and Cipla Limited, where it was underlined that increasing numbers of motor vehicles, higher population and use of biomass fuel were among the main causes of asthma.
Shimwela underlined that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma occur due to damage to air paths arising from toxic substances like tobacco and smoke from the burning of biomass for energy.
“Not only is the pollution increasing but our changing life style and modernization are also contributing to an increase in the prevalence of disease of the air conduits,” he said.
However, with the purpose of upgrading the doctors’ knowledge and improving their practice in driving out the disease, hundreds doctors from various places in the country met in Dar es Salaam for training on asthma and COPD dangers.
The training was conducted by Chest Research Foundation (CRF) and sponsored by Salama Pharmaceutical Limited and Cipla Limited.
Mathew Msambwa, a senior medical representative from Salama Pharmaceuticals told the doctors that good treatment of asthma and COPD must be based on formulas approved by global international guidelines on the use of inhalers.
“Using inhalers and not nebulizers is the first line of management of asthma and COPD. Nebulizers are a good option if a patient has a severe attack but not for routine management of asthma and COPD,” he explained.
Inhalers will prevent the patient from getting acute severe attacks because no medicine goes into the blood and it is safe, and does no cause addiction.
Msambwa said the training will help Tanzanian physicians to brush up their knowledge on the disease.
CRF will conduct training for upgrading the knowledge of primary care practitioners in asthma and COPD and also explore the possibility of conducting small epidemiologic studies on prevalence and risk factors for Obstructive Airways Diseases (OAD) in various parts of the country.
The prevalence of asthma in different countries varies widely, but an estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, with the number of people with asthma likely to grow by more than 100 million by 2025.
Workplace conditions such as exposure to fumes, gases or dust, are responsible for 11 per cent of asthma cases worldwide, the study noted.
About 70 per cent of asthmatics also have allergies, with approximately 250,000 people dying prematurely each year from asthma, with most of those deaths being avoidable.