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As World Asthma Day aims to raise awareness about the health consequences and personal and financial costs associated with asthma, the health industry is making use of gamification to improve asthma education.

Asthma is a silent but common chronic illness that affects both children and adults in all parts of the world, with an estimated 262 million people affected and 461 000 deaths caused by asthma globally in 2019¹.

In fact, the most recent official statistics on asthma prevalence and mortality available for South Africa place the country in 25th place worldwide² for asthma prevalence as of 2018. Added to this, South Africa has the fifth highest asthma mortality rate in the world, with an estimated 18.5 deaths per 100,000 asthma cases. Children are more commonly affected by asthma³ than any other chronic illness in South Africa.

With the global pandemic being the medical industry’s main focus over the last almost two years, not to mention the prevalence of other health crises, awareness and education drives around asthma, especially on the local front, have stalled.

This year’s World Asthma Day theme, ‘Closing Gaps in Asthma Care’, identifies the prioritisation⁴ of asthma alongside other long-term conditions as a gap in asthma awareness drives that needs to be addressed.

However, given the respiratory impact of Covid-19, there is a definite need to ensure people do not underestimate the dangers of asthma, leaving them exposed to risk of preventable attacks and even death.

Cipla is one global pharmaceutical company that has been steadfastly focused on addressing the world’s growing respiratory disease burden. “Globally, over the last six decades, Cipla has helped to increase access to life-saving drugs across the care continuum and provided a wide range of drug-device combinations to improve the lung health of millions of people worldwide,” says CEO of Cipla South Africa, Paul Miller.

To further these efforts, the medical industry is increasingly looking to digital innovation to ensure important, life-saving health messaging reaches people in engaging and effective ways. Gamification is one way the health industry is tackling serious health issues in a fun way to ensure retention of key messages.

Games have the potential to drive behavioural change, which in the case of asthma and the importance of adherence, is especially crucial. Cipla’s Bronki Boosters campaign, enlists children in ‘the battle for air’ and educates children about the importance of using their inhalers correctly in a way that’s all fun and games. The Bronki Boosters game also serves to educate the patient and the parent that people with asthma can lead a normal, active life.

The gamification trend is by no means a new one but remains one of the most effective ways to increase health literacy to ultimately improve patient outcomes. This is especially true given our reliance on digital technology and the ubiquity of smart devices among the youth in South Africa.

The medical industry has also realised that fear tactics are not as effective⁵ in furthering health literacy as the more positive, fun approaches tend to be. Digital platforms and games, for this reason, often focus on wellness, not an illness, eliminating the ‘doom and gloom’ that typically accompanies health messaging.

Digital innovations are certainly driving a shift in health literacy, with gamification among other methods ensuring more people are aware, informed, engaged and empowered to better manage asthma. At this rate, and with a continued drive to ensure wider adoption, technology can change the face of health literacy and subsequently health outcomes for the better.