Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that 235 million1 people currently suffer from asthma globally. An under-diagnosed and under-treated non-communicable disease, some 383,0001 deaths were attributed to asthma in 2015 alone. Although a public health problem that affects all countries regardless of income, most asthma-related deaths occur in low- and lower-middle income countries.1 Speaking at an AstraZeneca World Asthma Day event, Academic head of the Critical Care Division at WITS, Professor Guy Richards, said that South Africa has a high asthma mortality rate because many patients don’t go for treatment and when they do they are misdiagnosed and prescribed antibiotics.
Expanding on this, Prof Richards acknowledged that once accurately diagnosed with asthma, compliance becomes a challenge. “Patients must be carefully instructed on how to use their asthma pump. Failure to do so results in incorrect usage and way too many occasions where the medication is pumped into the air, rather than directly into the airways.”2
Recognising this burden and the fact that ”as many as 40% of South African patients believe the management of their asthma is under control when it’s not,” says Prof Richards,2 AstraZeneca has partnered with Imperial Health Sciences – specifically supporting the Group’s Unjani Clinic project. The 30 odd Unjani Clinics around the country are operated by nursing sisters who deliver affordable alternative primary healthcare services to low income communities. But when it comes to the treatment of asthma, the clinic nurses feel underqualified to diagnose and treat – believing it’s an illness best managed by doctors.
As a science-led biopharmaceutical company that is invested in the discovery, development and commercialisation of life-saving respiratory disease medication, AstraZeneca has begun rolling out training to upskill the Unjani Clinic nurses. Training focused on asthma diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management; the intention is to develop both proficiency and confidence in the nurses who on average see 500 patients a month. As many as 1,200 patients receive attention from the Unjani nurses in some clinics.
AstraZeneca Market Access & Government Affairs Manager, Singatwa Mnqandi, says “We consider our responsibility to our patients and our community as integral to what we do. Our commitment to improve health outcomes for South African patients extends far beyond our medicines.”
Adding to this she says that by working together with a broad range of partners, AstraZeneca can implement effective programmes that focus on the prevention, treatment and management of diseases like Asthma. “By supporting the Unjani Clinics we can advance patient health and access along the care continuum.”
More than just a medical conference and training, Mnqandi confirmed that 30 nebulisers were donated ensuring each clinic has the latest technology to help manage and treat patients with respiratory conditions. Experts in the field – Prof Michelle Wong and Prof Robin Green – were brought in to deliver training on adult and paediatric asthma respectively.
“With almost 12 500 patients passing through the Unjani clinics a month, the nurses have the capacity to make a sustainable difference to patients with respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD. This is particularly true when you consider that the strongest risk factors for developing asthma are inhaled substances and particles that may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways. By educating patients about avoiding triggers and providing them with medication which can control asthma, these patients can enjoy a better quality of life,” says Mnqandi.
Commenting on the sponsorship, Unjani Clinic NPC CEO, Lynda Toussaint says, “We are extremely excited about this initiative and really value our association with AstraZeneca! Through the enhancement of our nurse’s knowledge and the provision of quality equipment, we believe that our patients will achieve maximum benefit through the confirmation of and proper management of their asthma.”
“Every initiative we undertake is driven by our commitment to improve the life of a patient and our vision of tomorrow inspires our actions of today,” concludes Mnqandi.