On Tuesday, May 7, Nigerians joined the rest of the world to mark the 2013 World Asthma Day.
The annual event is organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) and partners to improve asthma awareness and care around the world.
The theme of the 2013 World Asthma Day is: “You Can Control Your Asthma” with GINA introducing a sub-theme, “It’s Time to Control Asthma.”
Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs and causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing.
Speaking at an event organised to mark the day in Nigeria, Professor Greg Erhabor, a consultant chest physician at Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, declared that no fewer than 50 million Nigerians are suffering from asthma, lamenting that the disease had not only become a national problem but an international one.
Prof. Erhabour, who is the president of the Asthma and Chest Care Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation, bemoaned that the Nigerian government was not doing enough on asthma spread, diagnosis and treatment, stressing that past administrations in the country only concerned themselves with the eradication of communicable diseases, while neglecting non-communicable diseases like asthma.
He said that, with the rise in westernisation, cases of the disease had been on the increase in the country.
While the number of Nigerians affected by this health condition is quite contentious because of the absence of reliable data on virtually all health issues in the country, it is quite appropriate to state that the incidence of asthmna, like most of the other non-communicable diseases, is on the rise, and a lot can be done to curb this disease in Nigeria.
According to the Global Burden of asthma report, a compilation of public data on the prevalence and impact of asthma around the world, “an estimated 300 million people worldwide have asthma, and children constitute a reasonable percentage of those afflicted.” According to the report, the prevalence of asthma is increasing throughout the world, especially as communities get urbanised.
Although asthma often runs in the family, and thus can be inherited, there are still other environmental factors that contribute to people developing this condition, and also having asthma attacks, as patients.
For instance, research has proven that smoking during pregnancy increases the chance of a child developing asthma.
It must be stated that, though asthma cannot be cured, with correct treatment, monitoring and avoiding triggers, the disease can be controlled.
A patient’s asthma is under control when he/she has no (or minimal) asthma symptoms, has no (or very infrequent) asthma attacks, has no (or minimal) need to use ‘reliever’ medication and has no need to wake up at night, due to asthma. It also includes the ability of the patient to do normal physical activity and exercise.
Even though asthma is a chronic and lifelong disease, if it is well managed, patients can live life normally. The control of the condition is the goal of treatment and can be achieved in the vast majority of asthma patients, with proper management.
Controlling asthma also means protecting patients from asthma-related triggers and aggravating factors. Factors that aggravate asthma include secondhand tobacco smoke, fumes from vehicles’ exhaust, among others.
To take care of these factors, as well as enhance treatment for the condition, it may be necessary for Nigeria to have a national guideline for asthma control.
The guideline can help in curbing the environmental factors that trigger attacks, as well as set a standard for the management of asthma by physicians in the country.
Government must also ensure uninterrupted and adequate supply of affordable and quality medicines for asthma. Nigerians should not die from this condition because it can be properly managed.
Quite a lot should also be done on education. Education on the health condition should be for both care givers and patients.
Physicians should be able to educate patients living with this chronic condition on how to manage it and thus be able to stay out of hospital wards.
As the 2013 World Asthma Day GINA sub-theme states, “It’s Time to Control Asthma.”