A holistic approach is needed to tackle India’s asthma burden

Urvashi Prasad, CNS Correspondent, India
It is estimated that India has around 30 million people living with asthma. Approximately 25% of the Indian population is suffering from allergy and 5% are living with asthma. As highlighted by Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, Member, Board of Directors, International Union Against TB and Lung Disease (The Union) during a recent webinar organised by CNS and The Union, asthma is often not taken seriously. He went on to add that the condition is frequently either not diagnosed or not treated even when diagnosed, resulting in several social, economic, psychological and physical problems.

Moreover, he emphasised that the burden of asthma is often exacerbated in the poor. It is believed that asthma is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. External factors include air pollution, rapid urbanisation and the use of fossil fuels. While asthma can affect any age group, it typically starts during childhood. During a recent poll conducted by Curofy, India’s largest community of doctors, it emerged that 82% of the 1,040 participants believed that air pollution was the most important reason for the rising incidence of asthma in children. Without doubt, air pollution is a significant problem in India contributing not only to the burden of asthma but several other health conditions. In Delhi, for instance, levels of PM 2.5 virus have been recorded as being 10 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) prescribed safety limit. Moreover, it is not just outdoor air pollution, indoor air is just as impure.

A holistic approach is therefore needed to tackle the burden of asthma. During the aforesaid webinar, in the lead up to World Asthma Day 2016, Priya Kanayson, Advocacy Officer of The NCD Alliance, highlighted three key areas in which interventions can be particularly useful -- energy, transport and food and agriculture. In the area of energy, she spoke about increasing access to clean cook stoves, reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy sources. With respect to transport, she emphasised the importance of cycling and walking as well as strengthening the public transport system. Finally, she stressed on the need for promoting local and sustainable food systems as well as reducing the consumption of red meat as important interventions in the area of food and agriculture.

For those suffering from asthma several lifestyle modifications can allow people to cope with their condition even though it is not fully curable. Management is crucial because it is a myth that asthma is not fatal. According to the WHO, in the year 2005, of the 300 million people who suffered from asthma, 25,000 lost their lives due to the condition. Lifestyle changes that can have a significant impact include undertaking regular exercise, having a balanced diet, minimizing exposure to polluted areas, quitting smoking, using air purifiers and adhering to asthma medication. Asthma is a condition that often does not get the attention it deserves because it is considered to be not as threatening as other health problems. However, given the significant burden and potential long-term consequences arising from its neglect, it is vital that we educate ourselves and others about the condition. Young children, in particular, might not understand how the condition can affect their lives adversely, thus the onus lies on parents to make them aware of the need for lifestyle changes and steps to be followed in case of an emergency.

Urvashi Prasad, Citizen News Service - CNS
May 11, 2016