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Wake up call on asthma in children: New data must drive well-coordinated action!

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Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service (CNS)

Dr Steve Graham on how to deal with asthma in children
(Image by Citizen News Service (CNS))
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If we listen to asthma experts and look at evidence, one reality becomes starkly clear: we have neglected asthma in children for far too long! "I think we have 'gone to sleep a bit' on asthma in resource-limited settings. The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and partners had done studies on asthma (called ISAAC studies), but there is nothing really ever been done since" said Dr Steve Graham, Professor, Department of International Child Health, University of Melbourne, and senior child health consultant at the The Union.

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ISAAC (International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood), is a unique worldwide epidemiological research programme established in 1991 to investigate asthma, rhinitis and eczema in children due to considerable concern that these conditions were increasing in western and developing countries. ISAAC formally finished in December 2012. The Global Asthma Network was founded in 2012 and is extending the work of ISAAC in the asthma field.

Asthma is a huge problem in the world, causing wheezing and difficulty breathing. It is a common chronic disease and cause of disability affecting 334 million people of all ages in all parts of the world.

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Data is power?

One might wonder: how 'latest' is the latest Global Asthma data? "The World Health Organization (WHO) has not done any asthma survey in last 12 years so no new data from WHO on asthma. Last Global asthma data which is now old came in 2003" said Dr Innes Asher, Department of Paediatrics, Child and Youth Health, University of Auckland, New Zealand; and Chair of the ISAAC and Global Asthma Network. Agreed Dr Guy Marks, Chair of Scientific Committee of the 5th Asia Pacific Region Conference on Lung Health in Sydney: "Data is power!" emphasizing the urgent need to collect new data on asthma, so that policies and programmes are appropriately informed.

"Asthma is seriously neglected. Asthma is invisible compared with obesity that is easily seen, or stroke or cancer etc. Asthma causes disability -- asthma is the 14th most important disorder in terms of global years lived with the disability" said Dr Innes Asher.

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Dr Asher added: "Economies suffer because of asthma - children miss their school or preschool and adults are not able to work too (either due to asthma or while caring for a child with asthma). Many people are not able to work effectively due to asthma causing serious loss of productivity. Economic cost of inaction due to asthma is huge! For example, Europe loses Euros 19 billion for 2011 due to asthma."

Deaths related to asthma are more common in some low and middle income countries. Almost 1000 persons per day die of asthma. "ISAAC study had found that asthma occurred everywhere in the world, was more common than was thought, and there were large variations. ISAAC had also found that asthma rates were overall increasing, but increases were more common in low and middle income countries" said Dr Asher.

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