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Underrecognition and undertreatment of asthma in Cape Town primary school children

R I Ehrlich
E Jordaan
D du Toit
J A Volmink
E Weinberg
M Zwarenstein


Background. In view of the high local prevalence of asthma, the extent of recognition and appropriate managementof childhood asthma was studied in a large suburban area of Cape Town.

Design. Cross-sectional study based on random community sample of schools.

Method. 1955 parents of sub B pupils from 16 schools completed a questionnaire, followed by: (f) an interview of parents of 348 symptomatic children; and (if) bronchial responsiveness testing on 254 children. the final case group consisted of 242 children with reported asthma or multiple asthma symptoms on both questionnaires. Children in whom asthma was acknowledged were compared with those in whom it was not.

Results. Overall, any past or current ('ever') asthma was acknowledged by respondents in only 53% of the children, and current asthma in only 37.1%. While most children had received treatment in the previous 12 months, 66.1% of the
recognised group were on current treatment (23.2% on daily treatment), compared with 37% of the unrecognised group (3% daily). Salbutamol and theophylline syrups were the most common types of medication, while inhalers and antiinflammatory medications were underused. Only a minority of parents reported the child ever having used a peak flow meter, or volunteered knowledge of preventive measures. Current treatment, and to a lesser degree recognition of asthma by parents, were more common among children on medical aid and of higher socio-eonomic status.

Conclusions. These findings suggest that ways need to be found: (i) to increase the use of current asthma treatment guidelines by practitioners; (ii) to provide access to comprehensive care by children not on medical aid; and (iii) to improve education of parents in home management measures such as severity assessment and avoidance of smoking, allergen and dietary triggers.

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eISSN: 2078-5135
print ISSN: 0256-9574