“Asthma causes disabling symptoms in millions of people who struggle to breathe, making ordinary activities extraordinarily difficulty – things like going to school, working at a job, looking after children or aging parents, running or even walking”, says Professor Asher.
“About 235 million people in the world suffer from asthma and the number is increasing – asthma is a neglected epidemic,” she says.
There high costs of poorly controlled asthma include the costs of acute treatment at the doctor or hospital, the lost productivity of people with asthma or parents of children with asthma, and the lost education of children who are too unwell to attend school.
“All those amount to billions of dollars lost to society.” says Professor Asher.
She says good asthma management can change this. Appropriate management included people with asthma knowing the steps to take to prevent their asthma symptoms and to treat worsening asthma (using self-management plans). They also needed to be able to access effective health care management when it is needed.
“Underpinning asthma treatment is ready access to quality–assured essential asthma medicines (a reliever such as salbutamol and a preventer inhaled corticosteroid such as beclometasone),” says Professor Asher. “But many countries in the world do not have these medicines readily available.”
Even where those medicines are available their cost may be beyond the reach of many of the asthma sufferers, she says.
“It is vital that governments continue to develop coherent policies to enhance access to effective asthma medicines,” she says. “New international agreements being developed behind closed doors such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement potentially put at risk the ability of governments to negotiate lower prices for quality–assured medicines.”
Health leaders needed to put quality–assured essential asthma medicines on the WHO pre-qualification list by next year, have them on all national essential medicines lists by 2015, and within 5 years have these medicines available and affordable in all countries.
“The Global Asthma Network, established in 2012, is working worldwide to reduce the burden of asthma through improving management, research, surveillance, capacity building and GAN strives to achieve global access to quality-assured essential medications,” says Professor Asher.
World Asthma Day is Tuesday 7th May. For more information go to the Global Asthma Network website.
The University of Auckland.