A day in the month of May every year is set aside in which countries observe the World Asthma Day. It is an annual event organised to improve asthma awareness and care. Dr. Gregory Efosa Erhabor is a Professor of Medicine and Consultant Chest Physician at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; he is also the President & Founder, Asthma and Chest care Foundation in Nigeria, as well as Chairman, National Asthma Committee. In this interview with PharmaTimes Correspondent, GABRIEL IFINNWA, he sheds light on the prevalence of Asthma in Nigeria, and the need to create specialised centres to manage the condition in the country.
What exactly is asthma?
Asthma is a disease characterised by chronic airway inflammation making it difficult for someone to breathe. Usually respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and cough are some of the cardinal signs.
What are the various types of asthma that people suffer from?
There are many different types of asthma – each triggered by various conditions and no one treatment fits all. There is the allergic asthma; it occurs during an allergy, setting off, an asthma flare up. Majority of asthmatics are of this type …especially external triggers. There is another type known as the non-allergic types as well.
What is the significance of the World Asthma Day?
The World Asthma Day is an annual event with a goal to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. It takes place on the first Tuesday in May every year. The overall aim is to decrease the number of people who die from asthma attacks. The Day is also designed to improve awareness of the condition with the view to ensuring that those with the condition are able to get diagnosed. It is our hope that the government agencies and other healthcare practitioners do a lot more to manage asthmatic conditions. Importantly, it is our goal to ensure as a society, that we cater for people who have asthma.
What is the prevalence rate of asthma in Nigeria?
The prevalence rate varies. But, what I will say is that with recent studies, about 15 million Nigerians are suffering from asthma.
I think it is getting better because one of the biggest problems is diagnosing asthma. Symptoms alone are not enough, because some symptoms may mimic asthma. There is need for objective measurement. One of the objective measurements is by using what we call the spirometer. It is available in some hospitals, but not in most hospitals. So, this still remains a big problem. And then, there is the allergic test, which has to be done to identify the triggers of asthma. Unfortunately, very few hospitals in Nigeria have this. Many of the hospitals depend on the symptomology to diagnose asthma, which to me, is not the best way.
How true is it, that asthma is also triggered during, or by the harmattan season?
These symptoms tend to come in episodes which can be seasonal or perennial. There have been cases where many asthmatics have been known to have flair-ups of asthma during the harmattan season. We have individuals who get exposed to the environmental factors that can cause asthma. For instance, some people have been found to have asthma during cold weather.
What informed the establishment of Asthma and Chest care Foundation?
For several years, the foundation has established itself as a leading community organisation involved in the provision of education, patient care and counselling, training of health professionals, and conducting of research projects towards the enhancement of the lives of people with lung diseases. The foundation is a league of seasoned healthcare professionals who provide selfless services through various platforms such as public seminars, workshops, asthma enlightenment campaigns and other such awareness programmes that cut across all strata of the society including health professionals, artisans, students, school pupils and the general community.
What is your advice to parents with asthmatic children?
The first thing the parents need to do is to ensure that it is really asthma, because there are some symptoms that may mimic asthma. So, the doctor will need to clinically assess the severity of the symptoms. Then, it becomes very important for those with asthmatic conditions to focus on the treatment. The treatment of asthma is determined by severity on presentation to the doctor among other factors. There are controller drugs with anti-inflammatory and relievers short-acting bronchodilators that provide acute relief of symptoms.
Is there a clinical cure for asthma?
In medicine, we do not like to use the word cure. But, what we usually like to say is that it can be managed. Asthma is a treatable condition and there are drugs available to treat asthma conditions.
What role should the government play?
The Government has a huge role to play. They can make funds available for research in asthma and support the training of healthcare practitioners in the country. Also, the government should equip and establish centres for diagnosis of asthma and managing asthmatic conditions in the country.