Kenya’s population is 53, 771,296 people, and it is estimated that 10% of the population has asthma (Kenya National Asthma Guideline). Regardless of the statistics, asthma is the least talked about non-communicable disease. To date, asthma is the most common chronic lung disease in the world.
Asthma is a disease that affects the airway. The inflammation of the airway emanates from the hyperresponsiveness to specific triggers. This results in wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing that can vary over time and in intensity. Additionally, asthma is non-discriminatory of age but childhood-onset is rampant. Presently worldwide, 325 million people suffer from asthma; and in our nation 6.2% of adults and 12.6% of children have asthma.
Though idiopathic, the risk factors vary from one person to the next. Factors that cannot be controlled include genetics, certain medical conditions, and gender. Whereas, predisposing factors such as obesity, exercises, occupational hazards, extreme emotions, environmental exposure, and certain medications can be managed and avoided.
Asthma signs and symptoms can mimic other respiratory diseases and hence the need for proper diagnosis which involves X-rays and spirometer. However, spirometers are underutilized regardless of testing despite being inexpensive (Global Asthma Report, 2018). This has contributed to approximately 4 million Kenyans unknowingly living with asthma (Evanson Kamuri the KNH CEO, 2019 World Asthma Day).
There is a steady increase in asthma cases through failure to diagnose, treat, and manage the disease sometimes resulting in fatality. Deaths occur more so in low and lower-middle-income countries, and other morbidities such as lung damage are experienced. In 2015, 383000 deaths were recorded with most occurring in older adults whereas locally 1726 deaths were recorded (WHO 2017).
There is no cure for asthma but people can lead normal lives with good management. This is highly dependent on learning the symptoms, knowing your triggers, and adherence to medication. Also, enjoying a good meal devoid of preservatives such as sulphites and managing emotions is encouraged.
Information is power. For a disease that topped the priority list (Kenya NCD and Injuries Poverty Commission), much still needs to be done in awareness creation. We ought to have the right information on signs, available diagnostic centres, and affordable treatment options. With this information readily available, mortality and morbidity cases can drastically be reduced.
The journey can be tough for those living with asthma. However, the ball must keep rolling. An inhaled puff when necessary and taking life a day at a time. As for the rest of the population, choose to be informed.