Project aims to improve asthma control in African schoolchildren

The investment from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is part of its Global Health Research Programme and will fund the three year project 'Achieving Control of Asthma in Children In Africa' (ACACIA) taking place in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Previously, asthma in African children was not thought to be a major health issue. But more African children are developing the long-term disease as they move to urban areas. Recent surveys in schools found that over 20 per cent of South African children aged 13 to 14 have ongoing asthma symptoms. But to date, there has been a lack of evidence to tackle the issue.

Using theatre to improve asthma awareness

The study will involve 3,000 children aged between 12 and 14 years old with asthma symptoms, and use surveys to assess their asthma control, treatment, attitudes to asthma, as well as the barriers to achieving good control.

A similar UK study led by this research group found that 46 per cent of young people (aged 12 – 18) had suboptimal asthma control, and that many young people faced a range of barriers to good asthma management, including lack of knowledge, forgetfulness and perceived stigma.

The team will use the new African school survey data to design and test a school-based intervention, which will include the adaption of an existing theatre performance, written by the Nigerian-born playwright Tunde Euba, which addresses asthma knowledge and stigma.

'Diseases of urbanisation'

Professor Jonathan Grigg from Queen Mary's Blizard Institute, and Director of the NIHR Global Health Research Group, said: "The number of children in sub Saharan Africa who live in urban areas is rapidly increasing. These children are developing diseases of urbanisation such as asthma. However, very little is known about the severity of asthma in African children. Working with leading paediatricians across Africa, this grant will allow us to describe the burden of asthma in children, and the reasons underlying poor asthma control."

Dr Louise Wood, Director, Science, Research and Evidence Directorate, Department of Health and Social Care said "The NIHR is adding substantive value to the field of global health and helping to keep the UK at the forefront of health knowledge for global benefit. These new activities complement the breadth and range of our existing portfolio of funded research to improve health outcomes across LMICs and demonstrate the NIHR's role in supporting the UK Aid Strategy."

The study will also involve Kwame Nkrumah University College of Health Sciences (Ghana), Lagos State University College of Medicine (Nigeria), University of KwaZulu Natal (South Africa), Makerere University (Uganda), Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome (MLW) Trust Clinical Research Programme (Malawi) and the University of Zimbabwe.

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