Most Kenyans dismiss shortness of breath after a slight exercise as laziness or exhaustion; now, experts are warning that it could point to potentially fatal lung problems.
Dr George Nyale, a chest specialist, said many Kenyans develop severe respiratory diseases that end up in death as they ignore the tell-tale signs of what could be wrong with their lungs.
In an already deficient capacity, Dr Nyale said, any other disease that attacks the lungs will deny the body of oxygen and then lets carbon dioxide, which is toxic, to build up in the body.
That would send the patient into a coma or even an early grave.
This is best exemplified by Ms Beth Njoroge, who suffered a bout of pneumonia after reporting shortness of breath and ended up in a coma and now moves about with machines.
Ms Njoroge’s narration at the opening ceremony of the fourth Scientific Lung Conference prompted Dr Nyale to caution Kenyans to seek medical attention whenever they experience shortness of breath.
Having developed polio as a toddler, confining her to a hospital for more than a month, Ms Njoroge developed other health complications from that condition, some that she was not aware of until she contracted pneumonia.
In the course of treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), she found out that one of the lungs had stopped growing due to the polio — the disease causes paralysis — and the other was too overworked to work properly.
Ms Njoroge now depends on a concentrator, an electricity dependent equipment that collects oxygen from the air, cleans it and then feeds it to her at a higher content.
The equipment cost more than Sh500,000, which is far beyond reach for many Kenyans.
Ms Njoroge said she was scared of power blackouts and could not visit places that do not have power since her machine’s battery charge cannot last more than two hours.
“When people ask where there is power to charge their phones, I ask where it is for my life,” she said, adding: “I cannot travel as I used to.”
The lungs are among the body’s ‘caretakers’ — the respiratory organs.
They allow oxygen in the air to be taken into the body while enabling the body to get rid of carbon dioxide in the air breathed out.
Respiratory illnesses are a public health concern, more so on an already challenged lung.
Pneumonia is Kenya’s number one killer, with the Ministry of Health saying it killed 21,295 people last year in health facilities alone.
The World Health Organization says the disease kills quickly because of poor diagnosis: Some health care workers cannot tell the signs indicative of pneumonia.