Leading medical professionals of European, Middle Eastern and African countries gathered at Boehringer Ingelheim’s second regional respiratory forum, themed “Innovative Solutions to Help Millions,” in Dubai to debate the clinical practices of diagnosing and the challenges of controlling the prevalence of respiratory illnesses in the Middle East.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified tobacco smoking, indoor and outdoor air pollution, and exposure to occupational dust and chemicals as the main causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a major health concern for developing countries, including the Middle East.
COPD is ranked the fourth leading cause of death globally and is expected to increase to third place by 2030.
Respiratory conditions in this region have a unique pattern due to a series of factors, including smoking, extreme weather conditions, as well as genetic disorders – conditions also indicated by the WHO as the main causes of respiratory disease. Smoking, together with obesity, have become major health concerns, along with associated lung diseases, and they now pose a major health burden to the regional healthcare system.
“Our data suggests that across the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region, around 40 million individuals are currently suffering from multiple respiratory diseases,” Dr. Bassam Mahboub, MD, FRCPC, consultant pulmonologist and head of pulmonary medicine at Rashid Hospital, said in a press release.
“More than 60 to 70 percent of patients diagnosed with a respiratory illness are under the age of 40, where smokers make up 30 percent of the patients. As such, 60 million people across this region alone are strong candidates for developing respiratory diseases. Smokers, usually, they visit the doctor to see whether they have heart problems or not, or they have cancer or not. They are totally, absolutely clueless about COPD,” Mahboub said.
He said that about 3.7 percent of the United Arab Emirates population suffers from COPD, according to a 2011 study by Zayed Military Hospital.
During the regional respiratory forum, doctors also discussed the increased prevalence of asthma in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, asthma prevalence is estimated to reach 23.6 percent; in Qatar it was estimated to be 19.8 percent; and in Oman the prevalence rate varied between 7.8 and 17.3 percent, depending on the area.
“It is important for health authorities across the region to develop national strategies and action plans to improve asthma management and reduce costs, while also ensuring availability of national appropriate asthma management guidelines,” said Dr. David Halpin, MD, consultant physician and honorary associate professor in respiratory medicine at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. “It is necessary to increase the awareness among patients and update doctors about asthma control guidelines for attaining optimal asthma control, and thus reducing the burden of the disease.”
“The impact of asthma in the MENA is heavy and requires immediate action, especially to increase awareness and overall understanding of chronic respiratory diseases amongst healthcare workers, healthcare providers, and governments,” Halpin said.
Another respiratory condition affecting the Middle East population is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which occurs when scar tissue builds up in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
“The key challenge that we must address is finding new avenues to create comprehensive awareness programs across the region to educate both patients as well as healthcare professionals about the dangers of IPF,” said Dr. Toby Maher, MD, consultant physician at Royal Brompton Hospital in London and senior lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London.
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