According to the Ministry of Health, Uganda records 3,500 new cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) every three months.
Sadly many health workers are unable to diagnose Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease which are, a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.
Speaking at a meeting organized by the Makerere University Lung Institute to brainstorm on the gaps in care, Dr. Frank Mugabe Rwabinumi, the Principal Medical Officer in charge of NCDs in the Ministry of Health said they need to conduct a chronic respiratory diseases survey to determine the exact burden of such diseases and also train health workers to be able to detect such diseases in the clinic.
Dr. Rwabinumi noted that even at the level of a regional referral hospital, they are unable to do basic tests such as spirometry that measures how well lungs are working.
He says that there is a need to urgently come up with the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) policy which also caters to the management of respiratory diseases.
Attributing the high burden of these diseases partly to practices such as using improper energy in cooking and open-air burning in many communities, Rwabinumi said scientists need to conduct wide awareness among policy and lawmakers such as those good laws to counter pollution are made.
Dr. Bruce Kirenga, the Chief Research Scientist at the Lung Institute urged the government to ensure that the use of spirometers is introduced to at least the level of district hospitals such that respiratory diseases are confirmed early enough such that correct interventions are taken to avoid unnecessary death.
A spirometer is used to assess how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale, how much you exhale, and how quickly you exhale experts these devices are inexpensive to acquire and easy to use with simple training.
Experts say everyone is at risk of COPD as long as they get exposed to smoking or any other air pollutants such as dust, fumes, and biomass fuel used for cooking among others.
However, while COPD is easily treatable and preventable, globally, the World Health Organization categorizes these diseases as the third leading cause of death, 90% of which happen in developing countries like Uganda.
In Uganda 10 to 16% of adults are estimated to be suffering from a form of COPD. People battling the disease often remain undiagnosed but they experience symptoms such as shortness of breath usually noticed on exertion, cough with small amounts of sputum commonly experienced in the morning, wheezing, and chest tightness.
According to MOH figures, the highest number of cases are reported in Kampala followed by the Tooro and Ankole regions. Bukedi, Karamoja, and Teso regions have the lowest number of reported cases.