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Friday, December 11, 1998 Published at 12:00 GMT


Global attack launched on asthma

Most asthma cases develop in childhood

A global plan to cut asthma deaths among children by 50% has been launched by world health experts.

The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), a joint programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, has begun a five-year plan to cut child asthma deaths.

The plan has been launched at a meeting in Barcelona, Spain, to mark the first World Asthma Day.

Asthma, which causes breathlessness and wheezing, is responsible for some 180,000 deaths a year.

The WHO says 100 to 150 million people around the world are asthmatic and the number is growing by 50% every decade.

The economic costs of treating asthma and days of work lost through illness are estimated to exceed those for tuberculosis and HIV/Aids combined.

The global five-year plan to reduce asthma aims to:

  • cut child asthma deaths by at least 50%
  • reduce childhood hospitalisation for asthma by at least 25%
  • cut the number of school days lost through asthma by 50%.

GINA will inform and educate health workers about effective management of childhood asthma, including making sure appropriate treatments are available for all patients.

It aims to ensure that doctors have professional guidelines on diagnosing and treating asthma and that parents with asthmatic children know how to administer treatments properly.

The plan proposes to increase the availability of anti-inflammatory drugs which have been shown to prevent symptoms from occurring and reduce death rates in children.

And it also aims to support research into the causes, prevalence and treatment of asthma.

Cost effective

Dr Nikolai Khaltaev of the WHO said the GINA action plan was cost effective.

"The anti-inflammatory drugs could be seen as expensive, but their outcome in a short period of time saves money because they reduce the need for admissions to hospital and mortality rates," he stated.

[ image: Many people with asthma use inhalers to help them breathe]
Many people with asthma use inhalers to help them breathe
The measures have been tried out in Japan which has about three million asthmatics, 7% of whom have severe problems breathing and need constant care and hospital treatment.

After just two years, the strategy had a dramatic impact on mortality figures from asthma.

Similar results have been noted in China.

The UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are the countries which are worst affected by asthma, but some countries, such as Papua New Guinea, have virtually no cases.

In the UK, asthma costs around $1.8bn a year.

In Australia and New Zealand up to a third of children have asthma.

The UCB Institute of Allergy in Belgium says asthma rates have doubled in Europe in the last 10 years.


However, developing countries are fast catching up.

Twenty per cent of children in Kenya now have asthma and between 15 and 20 million children aged five to 11 in India have the condition.

Dr Khaltaev said it was not known what the exact causes of asthma were, but it was thought that air pollution, low birth weight, smoking, genetic factors and exposure to indoor allergens such as domestic mites, cats and cockroaches at an early age had a major impact on the growth of the condition.

The theme of World Asthma Day is children and European asthma organisations have chosen a pale blue ribbon as a symbol to mark the day.

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