Socio-economic factors, gender and smoking as determinants of COPD in a low-income country of sub-Saharan Africa: FRESH AIR Uganda

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In Uganda, biomass smoke seems to be the largest risk factor for the development of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases, but socio-economic factors and gender may have a role. Therefore, more in-depth research is needed to understand the risk factors. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of socio-economic factors and gender differences on the COPD prevalence in Uganda. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major health problem in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).1 In 2010, COPD was the fourth leading cause of death globally, and it was expected to be the third by 2030.2,3 Unfortunately, the prediction has been overtaken by reality: at this moment, COPD is the third leading cause of mortality worldwide.4,5 Approximately 90% of COPD deaths occur in LMICs.6 Despite these high numbers, COPD is an unknown disease in most of the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, both in terms of public awareness and in public health planning. The people are unaware of the potential damage to respiratory and non-respiratory health caused by tobacco and biomass smoke.7,​8,​9 Biomass fuel use is the third largest contributor to the global burden of disease. Worldwide, around 3 billion people, most of them living in LMICs, rely on the use of open fires and burning of biomass fuels (wood, animal dung, crop residues, straw and charcoal) for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated conditions.14 Solid fuel burning is incomplete and produces high levels of household air pollution with a range of more than 250 health-damaging pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulphur oxides, as well as a variety of pollutants, irritants, carcinogens, co-carcinogens and free radicals.

A substantial difference in the prevalence of COPD was seen between the two ethnic groups: the prevalence of COPD among non-Bantu people was 20% (20.3% men and 19.7% women) and among Bantu people it was 12.9% (10.5% men and 14.9% women). Interestingly, additional analyses showed substantial differences between the two ethnic groups in SES. Bantu refers to a primarily large and complex linguistic grouping of people in Africa. Their cultural pattern is extremely diverse and are the most prosperous. They occupy the southern and western parts of Uganda.19,29 In general, non-Bantu people are the poorer ethnic group, and they inhabit a geographical area stretching semi-arid eastern and northern parts of Uganda.19,29Compared with the Bantu people, non-Bantu smoked more (57.7% vs 10.7%, P<0.001)), were less educated (no education 28.5% vs 12.9%, particularly women: 51.6% vs 17.1%, P<0.001) and lived more in tobacco-growing areas (72.0% vs 14.8%, P<0.001). After adjustment for these socio-economic factors in the multivariable model, the association between ethnicity and COPD remained significant, in contrast to the single socio-economic risk factors (tobacco smoking, education and living in tobacco-growing areas). An explanation for this could be that ethnicity was associated with a combination of all these socio-economic factors, and that this combination was more important than any single factor. As such, ethnicity could be seen as a variable indicating SES.

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