A £2 million research project led by Queen Mary University of London will be among the first to help tackle asthma in African school children, a condition that is becoming a major health issue in the continent.

The research will be conducted in Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and will involve 3,000 children aged between 12 and 14 years old who have symptoms of asthma.

Recent surveys have found that the number of African school children with asthma has increased by over 15 million since 1990*. But to date, there has been a lack of evidence to tackle the issue.

Lead researcher Professor Jonathan Grigg, from Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute, argues that this increase can be attributed to urbanisation. He 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.”

The study will involve Makerere University, as well as universities in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Dr. Rebecca Nantanda from Makerere University Lung Institute said: “In Uganda, asthma among children is a major and increasing challenge. Recent surveys have reported that 2 out of every 10 school children aged 8-14 years have asthma symptoms. However, there is very limited information on treatment and symptom control among these children. Similarly, the perceptions about asthma and the opportunities and barriers to symptom control are not known. This grant provides an opportunity to understand the burden of asthma among school children and related challenges. This will guide designing of locally relevant interventions for improved asthma care amongst school children.”

The three year project is funded by the UK Government’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The researchers will conduct surveys in African schools to assess asthma control and treatment, attitudes to asthma, and the barriers to achieving good control. They will use the new 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 understanding and stigma around asthma.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Rebecca Nantanda

Paediatrician and Research Fellow, Makerere University Lung Institute