Advancing Lung Health in Africa, a global imperative: The Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS)

By Heather J Zar, President Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS) and Joseph Aluoch, Vice-President PATS

27 June, 2016

Africa carries a disproportionately high burden of respiratory morbidity and mortality relative to the population size. The burden of both infectious diseases as well as of non-communicable diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma is high in Africa. Infectious diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis or HIV-associated respiratory illness are amongst the commonest acute illnesses in African populations. Asthma and COPD are common; asthma is the commonest non -communicable disease in African children and some of the highest COPD prevalence rates reported globally occur in African adults. Further, respiratory infectious diseases have been increasingly linked to the development or worsening of respiratory NCDs, such as the association of TB with development of COPD. Environmental exposures such as biomass or tobacco smoke, HIV infection or impairments in nutrition, are important risk factors for severe respiratory disease that are common in Africa. Biomass fuel use is ubiquitous and a major contributor to the prevalence of respiratory infections, malignancy or COPD.

African infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to developing respiratory disease. Almost half of the 1 million childhood deaths that occur globally each year, occur in African children amongst which pneumonia is the predominant cause of death. This is compounded by the high proportion of children (approximately 30-50%) who make up African populations. The high prevalence of risk factors for respiratory disease in children as malnutrition or HIV infection (90% of HIV-infected children globally live in sub-Saharan Africa) further increase the risk of severe disease, mortality and morbidity from respiratory illness. The importance of preventing and optimally managing childhood respiratory illness is underscored by accumulating evidence that the origins of chronic lung disease may arise prenatally and early in childhood, with early life exposures such as tobacco smoke or acute pneumonia, associated with asthma or COPD into adulthood.

In this context, the Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS) was formed. The overall aim of PATS is to promote lung health in Africa through education, training, research and advocacy. In the last 5 years, PATS has grown substantially, becoming a voice for lung health in Africa, undertaking educational, research and advocacy initiatives and building African capacity to address the challenges of improving lung health on the continent. PATS currently has members from 33 different African countries, representing the diversity and richness of Africa.

A very exciting initiative was the first PATS conference recently held in April 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. This highly successful meeting brought together more than 400 health care professionals to address key issues in African lung health. The level of critical discussion, presentations and young investigator’s research was excellent and inspiring! This inaugural PATS conference was made possible by generous support from ERS, ELF, ATS, the Union, the Kenyan Ministry of Health and other partners and was organised by the Kenya Association for Prevention of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases (KAPTLD). Preceding the congress, a day of excellent practical workshops was held - on spirometry training; training in chest ultrasound; research methodology; TB management and prevention. The spirometry training workshop, supported by ERS and the European Lung Foundation was particularly successful, leading to the beginning of a new initiative to establish a PATS spirometry course that can be widely rolled out in Africa, so building much needed capacity in this area. Following on this course, a public spirometry event was held in Nairobi to mark World Asthma Day in early May. Members of the public were able to learn more about asthma and have their lung function measured in the middle of busy Nairobi!

PATS - Spirometry test

The conference has led to a boost in membership (new members are encouraged to join through the website), renewed enthusiasm to tackle the challenges in achieving better African lung and created new potential for collaborations and training programs. Already the next (2018) PATS conference is being planned to be held in South Africa!

PATS is grateful for all the support that has enabled the growth and development of the society. PATS together with our partner societies in the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) looks forward to future opportunities to work together to improve adult and child lung health in Africa and reduce global inequities in health.

Read more about the ERS/ELF Healthy Lungs for Life campaign which supported the PATS spirometry workshop.

Respiratory Worldwide aims to stimulate communication and interaction between national and regional respiratory societies and ERS. These articles have not been (peer) reviewed and are not official ERS content.