Address by Nelson Mandela at "Asthma for Africa Congress", Cape Town

1 February 2001

Honoured Delegates
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

To be the patron of an organisation, I have learnt, mostly means that one's name appears on letterheads, in most cases without you ever having any active role in the life of that organisation.

I am not complaining, because in many instances my office threatened me, saying that I could only agree to such patronage if it would not complicate their lives by me having to get actively involved. And a retired and unemployed pensioner like myself is quite vulnerable and has to listen to the commands of his bosses.

When I therefore do get an opportunity to escape their watchful eyes and clutches on occasions such as this I greatly welcome it. It gives me the chance for once to witness first hand what an organisation, of which I am patron, is actually involved in. So, thank you very much for inviting me and providing me this much-appreciated opportunity.

Seriously though: this is such an important event in the overall effort of our country to address issues of public health, that I am deeply honoured to be part of it.

It is, in the first place, my pleasant duty as Patron to welcome all of you - delegates, speakers and visitors - to this "Asthma for Africa" congress.

As you will well know, asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions in the world, affecting between 5 and 15% of the population. And I am told it continues to become even more common. The importance of this conference, and of your attendance here, needs no explanation.

The South African National Asthma Education Programme was formed with two principal goals, viz. to increase public awareness that asthma is a significant public health problem; and, secondly, to enhance the knowledge and skills of all health professionals in order to improve asthma control.

This conference is a very important way of achieving these goals, not only in South Africa but also in our neighbouring countries.

The primary health care workers represent the layer of health professionals who look after the bulk of asthma sufferers in Africa. This conference is therefore mainly aimed at these primary health care workers, both doctors and nurses. Even though they carry the main burden of responsibility in this regard, they also tended to be the most neglected as far as continuing professional development is concerned. We trust that this conference will go some way towards redressing that.

The Asthma Education Programme is furthermore committed to educating and informing both sufferers and the general public about asthma. To this end, the organisers have arranged a special programme for them on Saturday. Leading local and overseas experts will address that session on the latest developments in the field.

It is particularly commendable of the organisers to have placed such a special emphasis in the conference proceedings on Africa-specific problems relating to asthma. The regeneration of our continent, of which we dream and towards which we work so much, involves also quite literally the regeneration of the physical health and well-being of the people of the continent. It also means that we have to address the peculiarities of our continental circumstances and find ways ourselves to deal with them.

I wish you well in your deliberations and discussions over the next few days. May it be fruitful in advancing your understanding and may it prove practical in enhancing your ability to control this chronic condition that afflicts so many people.

I need in conclusion to extend a special word of thanks to our very eminent international speakers Dr Partridge from the United Kingdom, Professor Crowie from Canada and Professor Anabwani from Botswana.

Similarly, our appreciation to the South African Department of Health and the Global Initiative for Asthma for their generous sponsorship of delegates who would otherwise not have been able to attend. And to the pharmaceutical trade without whose support, I am told, this conference would not have been possible.

It is through that spirit of partnership and the practice of inclusive co-operation that we shall be able to successfully tackle the problem asthma presents.

I thank you all and wish you well.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation