From throwaway bottle to asthma lifesaver
By SIPOKAZI FOKAZI
Arena Holdings PTY
News | Royal Tiff
● A low-cost South African invention that helps young asthmatics breathe easier will soon hit the shelves — thanks to an experimental prototype based on recycled plastic cooldrink bottles. The AfriSpacer was developed by professor Heather Zar, head of paediatrics and child health at the University of Cape Town and a pulmonologist at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. It will be on sale from next month after further refinement by local biomedical engineers. It is a low-budget version of the commercially available spacers that are used in conjunction with asthma pumps to ensure the medication reaches the lungs as efficiently as possible. The AfriSpacer has been commercialised by the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (Afsa), which plans to make about 30,000 of the devices available at local pharmacies from next month. About 10,000 of them have already been donated to Zimbabwe via the National University of Science & Technology in Bulawayo. Afsa CEO professor Mike Levin, an allergy specialist at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, said in a country such as South Africa, where 15,000 people die as a result of asthma every year, low-cost spacers were crucial. “It is conservatively estimated that 80% of asthma deaths could be prevented with better treatment. It is for this reason that we are so excited to be launching the AfriSpacer into the market, and to be able to sell the units at a far lower cost than other commercially available spacers.” Levin said spacers, used by children and adults who struggle to breathe during an asthma attack, allowed about 1.7 times more medication to be directed into the lungs, “making it more effective than a home nebuliser or dry powder inhaler”. “When you spray the pump inside the chamber and then breathe this air into your lungs, the spray has time to go into the deepest part of the lungs where it is needed the most.” Zar, who began her experiment with recycled plastic bottles in 1998 and has since received several accolades for her work, described the commercialisation of the device as wonderful news. “It’s excellent that South African kids with asthma may have access to this device,” she said. “It means that inhalers can be used effectively by any child who needs to use an asthma pump. So it’s great for ensuring that every child gets optimal asthma treatment. As a passionate advocate for improving child health, I am so pleased that my humble cooldrink-bottle prototype provided the groundwork for the AfriSpacer,” she said. The AfriSpacer will retail at R90 and proceeds will go to Afsa. “To use an asthma pump effectively one has to co-ordinate inhalation with actuation of the pump, which is very difficult to do for children, the elderly and anyone who has a tight chest,” said Zar. “A spacer holds the inhaled medicine so there’s no need to co-ordinate breathing and pressing the pump.” Zar paid tribute to those who collaborated in developing the AfriSpacer, including nurses, NGOs and handymen at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. She said it had been adopted in the US, “where [many] people don’t have health insurance and can’t afford a spacer”.