Ground-breaking new asthma treatment device launches in SA

The launch of the device is well timed, as May is Asthma Awareness Month ... and alarmingly, South Africa has one of the highest asthma death rates in the world, with around 15, 000 deaths each year.

A revolutionary new device, which makes inhalation of medication from an asthma pump easier and far more effective, has been launched in South Africa by the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA).

The origins of the AfriSpacer device began several years ago when Professor Heather Zar, a paediatric pulmonologist and head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, created a homemade spacer from a plastic cold drink bottle after she witnessed the inadequate treatment that asthmatic children were receiving due to the high cost of the asthma spacers. Her innovative design earned Professor Zar the World Lung Health Award, a first for a paediatrician, and the first time anyone from Africa won the award.

This pioneering plastic bottle prototype then went on to be further developed, honed, and refined into the AfriSpacer by a dedicated team of biomedical engineering alumni working under the guidance of Professor Mike Levin, CEO of the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA), and head of the Paediatric Asthma and Allergy Division at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

“It is conservatively estimated that 80% of asthma deaths could be prevented with better treatment,” says Levin. “It is for this reason that we are so excited to launch the AfriSpacer into market, and to be able to sell the units at a far lower cost than other commercially available spacers.”

Professor Levin, who is also a Professor of Paediatric Allergology at the University of Cape Town, explains that when using an asthma pump (metered dose inhaler) without a spacer, most of the spray hits the back of the throat, with only 9% of the medication actually reaching the lungs.

“The device slows the speed of the spray from an asthma pump and successfully directs more medication into the lungs. Using the device allows 1.7 times more medicine to reach the lungs – making it more effective than a home nebuliser, or dry powder inhaler. A spacer is basically a chamber filled with air, with the asthma pump fitting into the back.  When you spray the pump inside the chamber and then breathe this air into your lungs, the spray has time to go into the deepest part of the lungs where it is needed the most,” Levin says.

According to Professor Zar, the device is recommended for ALL children, and for adults with difficult-to-control asthma. “For adults and children able to use a single breath inhalation technique, the AfriSpacer alone is recommended. For young children who cannot take a single breath in and then hold their breath, the device should be paired with the one-way AfriValve which allows them to inhale the asthma medication at their own pace, with normal breathing. For very small babies who cannot put the spacer in their mouths properly, the spacer and valve can be used with a face mask. These products can be easily washed and reused, making them safe, effective and durable.”

“As a passionate advocate for improving child health in South Africa, and ensuring all children have access to effective interventions, I am so pleased that my humble cold drink bottle prototype provided the groundwork for the newest device now being launched in South Africa,” says Professor Zar. Prior to their launch onto the retail market, thousands of AfriSpacers and AfriValves were distributed free of charge to public hospitals and clinics across South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The devices are available to purchase from June at national Dis-Chem, Spar Pharmacies, Local Choice Pharmacies, Alphen Wholesaler Pharmacies, and on the AFSA website’s SHOP.
The spacer costs R90 (claimable from medical aids) and proceeds go to the Allergy Foundation of South Africa to help fund their ongoing efforts in asthma and allergy research, training, patient awareness and education, support and care.

Events to take note of:
As part of the AfriSpacer launch AFSA will be hosting a Facebook Live Event at 7pm on Wednesday 31 May which is open to all interested parties. Speakers include Prof Heather Zar and Prof Mike Levin, as well as Muvhango star Florence Masebe, who is an asthma sufferer herself. Well-known stand-up comedian and actor Riaad Moosa (who is also a doctor), will be presenting, as well as Gokul Nair, a biomedical engineer who spearheaded the development of the AfriValve.

For more information about the device, asthma, and the Allergy Foundation South Africa visit, or contact them on 081 405 8442 or email Follow @SAallergy on Instagram and Twitter @SAallergy and Facebook @SAallergy.


For more stories on health and wellness, visit Get It Magazine.

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