On 14 July 2022, MLW’s Lung Health Group participated in a policy forum organised by the Ministry of Health in Lilongwe. The forum aimed to facilitate the translation from research to practice and policy for issues of public health importance in Malawi.
At the forum, Senior Research Nurse Beatrice Chinoko presented the results of community engagement in collaboration with the Blantyre DHO, ACACIA Study Project Manager Eliza Mkutumula presented the prevalence of asthma in Malawian school children and Group Lead Dr. Jamie Rylance presented a summary of PAC study, focusing on the treatment of asthma and making a case for task shifting.
In her presentation, Chinoko revealed that the unavailability of asthma inhalers in health facilities is affecting asthma management in the country. Chinoko has since called for government support in ensuring increased access to inhalers in Blantyre health centres to help in asthma care and management.
She said: “People visit hospitals and collect asthma inhalers but when they return home, they get discouraged from using them because some tell them once they start using the inhalers, it is for their entire life. Thus, we have been conducting community awareness and sensitisation meetings to address this issue. At times, you can find a salbutamol inhaler in stock, but the greatest challenge is the beclomethasone inhaler which reduces inflammation of the airways. We believe that policymakers will help us to make inhalers available in our primary health services for easy accessibility of people.”
Presenting on the ACACIA study, Mkutumula stated that through focus group discussions, role plays and topic questionnaires, it was observed there is a knowledge gap on asthma among primary and secondary stakeholders.
She said: “About 61percent of people, including teachers, parents, and learners answered that it was false that asthma is a chronic disease, which is worrying.”
Present at the event was the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health Hon. Matthews Ngwale said that research is important to the health sector and appealed for more engagement between researchers and policymakers.
“Issues to do with registration change are not simple and need a lot of evidence through research”, he said.
“My appeal is to non-governmental organisations to start picking some of the diseases and advance them so that they can be factored into the budget. It is good that the researchers have investigated it and seen the gaps present and made it known that asthma is an issue,” said Ngwale.
Stakeholders that participated in the forum included the Asthma Association on Malawi, Malaria Control Programme, Partners in Hope, Blantyre District Health office, the Department of Non-Communicable Diseases under the Ministry of Health, and the media.