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The National Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Lung disease Program participated in the first biennial conference on respiratory diseases in Africa, which took place in Nairobi between 9th and 12th of April 2016. The inaugural Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS) Congress themed “Breathing life into Africa”, brought together health professionals from across Africa to address current challenges in pediatric and adult lung health on the continent. PATS members consist of highly trained respiratory health professionals who serve in all sectors – public, private and the non-governmental sector.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health Dr Cleopa Mailu, officially opened the conference expressed his gratitude to PATS for choosing Kenya as the host of its first conference. Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the great burden of respiratory diseases on the continent.

“Sadly, Africa bears the largest brunt of infectious lung diseases dominated by acute respiratory infections and Tuberculosis (TB). Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly three quarters of persons with TB and HIV,” said Dr Mailu.

The NTLD- Program staff who were sponsored through the USAID funded Tuberculosis Accelerated Response and Care (TB ARC) activity had several papers to present including those on pediatric TB, MDR and SDR in African children, Public Heath Programming to enhance TB in children, TB Preventive and Therapeutic Strategies in African Children, M&E in Kenya, Introduction of real time Data, among several other poster presentation by staff from the county government. The Delegates shared their experiences in dealing with TB, the fourth leading cause of mortality in Kenya, and richly contributed to dialogue on enhancing lung health in Africa.

In Kenya, non-communicable respiratory conditions are increasingly recognized as a major health problem, alongside TB. In 2015, respiratory conditions accounted for 10.3% of all deaths. For children aged between 0 and 4 years, lower respiratory conditions remained the leading cause of death at 17.6%. It is estimated that deaths due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other non-communicable diseases will increase by 27% by the year 2030. It is further estimated that 10% of the Kenyan population, has asthma while the burden of COPD is currently unknown. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the world.

Efforts by the National TB Program and its partners have seen Kenya realise major milestones in TB control, being recognized as the first country in Africa to achieve the WHO global targets of detecting 70% and treating 85% of these TB cases successfully. However, more effort is needed to further reduce the mortality rates. This was qualified by the CS who highlighted that, “In 2015, respiratory diseases contributed to about 10.8% of the total number of deaths in Kenya.”

During the conference, major respiratory health issues were brought to perspective with more emphasis being placed on prevention, care and control of occupational lung diseases, current management of COPD, emerging epidemics, persisting complexities global initiatives, among others.  This was in line with the clear vision of promoting lung health in Africa.

The next PATS congress will be held in 2018 in South Africa.