Education is key to empowering patients to manage asthma conditions

Statement from The Union for World Asthma Day 2018

On World Asthma Day, (1 May), The Union is calling on greater empowerment for patients in the treatment of this deadly disease, via global investment in education and awareness-raising on the management of asthma conditions.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 235 million people suffer from asthma worldwide. This chronic lung disease causes breathlessness, tightness in the chest and coughing. In worst case scenarios, asthma is a killer, accounting for 383,000 deaths annually. Despite rising global prevalence, asthma continues to be under-diagnosed and under-treated, creating a substantial burden to individuals, communities and healthcare providers.

Asthma, though not curable, can be controlled with proper management, through using appropriate medication and avoiding common asthma triggers such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, mould spores, and colds and flu. However, for many resource-challenged countries particularly, access to appropriate asthma management strategies – and medicines – can be restricted or simply non-existent. Many countries lack a national asthma management plan and patients may simply not be aware of the critical information that can enable the management of asthma conditions and, literally, be life-saving.

The theme for this year’s World Asthma Day - Never Too Early, Never Too Late. It’s Always the Right Time to Address Airways Disease - is a call to action for both patients and healthcare providers worldwide to evaluate symptoms regardless when in one’s life they may occur and take appropriate actions to ensure that the asthma is controlled. Education – and the dissemination of management strategies - is fundamental to this goal.

José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union, says, “Avoidable asthma deaths point to a failure in the implementation of prevention strategies.  But these require information and education, ensuring that those who have asthma know what to do to manage their condition. Practically this means global investment in better education and resources, implemented effectively worldwide. Asthma affects both adults and children, across all countries, regardless of income. If we are to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of Good Health and Well-being, then the diagnosis and management of asthma has to be prioritised.”

In its report, The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease, the Forum of Respiratory Societies (FIRS), concurs with this viewpoint and has stated that prevention, control and cure of respiratory diseases such as asthma, must be a top priority in global decision-making in the health sector and a leading strategy for all nations to achieve.

FIRS says, “Educational campaigns to encourage regular use of inhaled corticosteroids for control, avoidance of exposures that trigger asthma attacks and provision of written asthma action plans, so that the patient can respond to worsening asthma, are important parts of effective asthma control management programmes.”

That asthma is an issue of global proportions, affecting all countries, is underlined by research from Asthma UK, released to coincide with World Asthma Day 2018. They found that, in Britain, latest figures pointed to nearly 1,500 deaths from an asthma condition, an increase of over 20 percent in just five years. Campaigners believe that this is due to a lack of both education and frontline basic care services.

Dr Samantha Walker, Director, Asthma UK, says “While we don’t know for sure why the UK is performing so poorly, a lack of understanding could play a part…We are calling for people with asthma to make sure they take their medication properly and for healthcare professionals to take asthma seriously, diagnose asthma patients effectively and treat them promptly.”

Key facts

  • Asthma is one of the major noncommunicable diseases. It is a chronic disease of the air passages of the lungs which inflames and narrows them.
  • Some 235 million people currently suffer from asthma. It is a common disease among children.
  • Most asthma-related deaths occur in low- and lower-middle income countries.
  • According to the latest WHO estimates, released in December 2016, there were 383,000 deaths due to asthma in 2015.
  • The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are inhaled substances and particles that may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways.
  • Medication can control asthma. Avoiding asthma triggers can also reduce the severity of asthma.
  • Appropriate management of asthma can enable people to enjoy a good quality of life.

Source: WHO Asthma Fact Sheet 2017

Asthma UK research: