Poor housing leaves Tshwane girl gasping for breath

Damp and cold can trigger asthma attacks (file photo)
The Matlhela family blames poor living conditions,  damp and cold for their toddler’s severe asthma attacks. South Africa has one of the world’s highest asthma death rates (file photo)

December’s heavy rains collapsed portions of the Matlhela family’s home in Stinkwater outside Pretoria. The family has been unable to fix the roof.

OurHealth visited the Matlhela’s home during the recent rainy weather in Tshwane and found damp walls and water inside the house.

Anna Matlhela says the poor conditions trigger severe asthma attacks in her young granddaughter, Amogelang, that leave the child struggling to breathe.

“I am very worried to live in these conditions, but there’s nothing I can do,” Anna says. “When it rains, my own house becomes a health problem.”

Toddler Amogelang was diagnosed with asthma at the age of one year.

Asthma is a condition leads to the inflammation of a person’s airways. This inflammation makes it difficult to breathe. While wet conditions can trigger attacks but are not asthma’s root cause, which is usually related to a family history of the disease, allergies or lung infections, according to Tshwane District Hospital nurse Mangena Mokoma.

The condition must be managed and Amogelang frequently uses an inhaler to help her breathe – with the help of her mother, Rose.

“My daughter is normal like anyone else when the environment is fine, but when it’s cold she develops breathing problems,” says Rose, who adds that as Amogelang grows, she will have to teach the girl to use the inhaler herself.

Asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood illnesses in South Africa. The country ranks at fourth in asthma-related deaths worldwide, according to a 2012 report released by international non-profit organisation, the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA).

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