You may not cure but control your asthma

Tuyeimo Haidula, CNS Correspondent, Namibia
Asthma is a neglected tropical disease which cannot be cured but it can be treated and controlled. Good asthma control means a person can live life normally with no or very minimal symptoms. These were the sentiments shared by experts during a recently organised webinar by Citizen News Service (CNS) for media in lead up to World Asthma Day 2017.

Currently, asthma affects more than 300 million people world wide. A speaker at the webinar, Dr Kevin Mortimer, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Liverpool School of Medicine, and honorary lecturer at Malawi College, defined asthma as a disease of poverty and one of the commonest non-communicable respiratory disease. Dr Mortimer said that the approximately 250 000 deaths from asthma every year were arguably avoidable.“With effective treatment most people can lead normal lives. However, some people have asthma that cannot be controlled despite access to all treatments money can buy, while many people around the world lack access to basic effective treatment”, he said. Poor control of asthma, poor access to asthma treatment, a big risk of financial impact and a risk of dying from asthma are all associated with poverty. “Most rural areas are either not served at all or served very poorly by health services. To achieve effective asthma care for all, and especially the rural poor, health systems need to be strengthened. And a key part of that strengthening needs to be access to funded basic effective treatment,” he emphasised.

Dr Mortimer said little is being done in terms of community mobilisation on asthma. Creating awareness, information on care, treatment and management at the rural level by NGOs and healthcare providers can go a long way in helping asthma patients. “Community groups such as religious communities, can organise themselves to harness individuals and populations to create awareness and rally support for those living in the most vulnerable conditions.  Each individual can contribute in their own way to reduce asthma incidences. The most obvious one is to stop smoking. People should also limit use of diesel cars that pollute the atmosphere in the city,” he added. Dr Mortimer said inhaled steroids are on the WHO’s essential medicines list, yet they remain out of reach for many of the world’s poor who have asthma. Chakatip Kiatduriyakul, a finance expert from Northern Thailand, is a living testimony that asthma can be controlled. Chakatip shared her personal experience of managing asthma and living normally with it. She had had asthma as young as 6 years old until she was 20. After that, she has had asthma only periodically and in some years she was totally fine.

So much so that Chakatip had almost forgotten about it until 2007, when her asthma made a come back. This time it lasted for the longest period of about 6 months. “There was smoke in the city and I started to develop the symptoms again. I had also lost my job at that time and I guess that this added stress made it last longer than usual”, she narrated. During this time, she had to watch out for dust conditions, smokes, and her diet, as well as avoid over exercise. She said that dust in households and smoke in the atmosphere help asthma symptoms to comeback, even after years of subsiding. She urged asthma patients to, “Live in a clean environment, free from dust and throw away or donate unused stuff. Remove the clutter from your mind and from your house. When the symptoms start, its best to take medication right away otherwise it can get worse quickly. It is important to have medication available all the time.” Regular physical exercise helps a lot, she said, adding that patients should start with easy work out like walking on a pavement for 40 minutes and increase intensity little by little. Other than physical exercise, she stated that music also helps to reduce symptoms, as controlling stress is another key part of keeping asthma under control.

Prof Surya Kant, Head of Respiratory Medicine Department, King George’s Medical University, and also the National President of Indian Chest Society, said that childhood asthma is increasing in India because of the changing dietary habits of Indian children who indulge more in fast food. Vehicular pollution as well as tobacco smoking are other contributing factors. He recommended the 6D approach for asthma management namely: doctor-who knows how to deal with asthma, diagnosis-doctor must make the correct diagnosis using the right tools, drug/dosage-doctor must recommend the right drug and dosage, device-doctor must recommend the right device for drug delivery, deliberation-doctor must deliberate with the patient on what is best for asthma management and lastly its adherence- patient must adhere to treatment as per doctor’s advice.

Tuyeimo Haidula, Citizen News Service - CNS
May 11, 2017