The impact of asthma and COPD in sub-Saharan Africa.



Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have the highest risk of developing chronic diseases and are the least able to cope with them.


To assess the current knowledge of the prevalence and impact of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in sub- Saharan Africa.


A literature search was conducted using Medline (1995-2010) and Google Scholar.


Eleven studies of the prevalence of asthma in sub-Saharan Africa were identified, all of which showed a consistent increase, particularly in urban regions. The data on asthma show a wide variation (5.7-20.3%), with the highest prevalence in 'westernised' urban areas. Only two studies of the prevalence of COPD in sub-Saharan Africa have been performed. Nevertheless, COPD has become an increasing health problem in sub-Saharan Africa due to tobacco smoking and exposure to biomass fuels. In most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, 90% of the rural households depend on biomass fuel for cooking and heating, affecting young children (acute lower respiratory infections) and women (COPD). This is the cause of significant mortality and morbidity in the region.


Asthma and COPD in sub-Saharan Africa are under-recognised, under-diagnosed, under-treated, and insufficiently prevented. A major priority is to increase the awareness of asthma and COPD and their risk factors, particularly the damage caused by biomass fuel. Surveys are needed to provide local healthcare workers with the possibility of controlling asthma and COPD.

Resource information

Respiratory conditions
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Breathlessness
  • Chronic Respiratory Disease
  • COPD
Type of resource
Peer-reviewed article
van Gemert F, van der Molen T, Jones R, Chavannes N