Asthma on the rise amongst children

Maltese Asthmatic Society president Stephen Healey says 300 million persons are affected by asthma worldwide.

MAS President Stephen Healey said Malta has the highest rate of people suffering from asthma amongst the Mediterranean countries and the European Union. "Asthma is on the increase," Healey said.

Director of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention directorate Charmaine Gauci said asthma was the most common chronic disease amongst children.

“It is the most common cause for children missing school,” Gauci said, as she pointed out that asthma and asthma deaths are on the increase in the developed world.

Whilst a large variation in the prevalence of asthma symptoms in children exists, children aged between 6 and 7 are more affected by asthma.

Amongst other exposures, the increase in asthma is derived from increased levels of outdoor air pollutants, increased exposure to tobacco smoke and tighter homes.

“As homes are built smaller, with less windows, high indoor levels of nitrogen are noted,” Gauci said. “A ‘tight’ home makes it difficult for any pollution trapped inside to be released, with occupants inhaling it.”

Other allergens include house dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander, pollen and moulds and chemical irritants at the workplace.

“As a directorate, we also try to help those who have asthma by educating them on self care and educating the carers on how to manage it. But our ultimate aim is not only to manage such cases, but we also aim for prevention,” Gauci said.

As an individual, there are small things which one can do as prevention. Amongst these, Gauci said, in households one must try to control the dust mites, for example by minimising the use of carpets; keeping one’s home smoke-free; making use of indoor air interventions like installing exhaust fan close to source of contaminants.

Health Minister Joe Cassar said there is a close link between tobacco smoke and asthma. “A lifestyle health report conducted in 2008, reveals the rate of smokers in 2008 decreased by 3% to 20% when compared to the previous five years,” he said, adding despite the decrease, government has a lot more work to do.

“Collaboration between specialists, doctors, nurses and other professionals must increase to facilitate and help individuals when taking decisions to improve their health,” Cassar said.

Cassar said Malta is exposed to winds and dusts, which do not help those who suffer from asthma.

Present at the debate was also Opposition spokesperson on health Marie-Louse Coleiro Preca, who said the country should work for a better preventive system, tackling all structures which effect air quality.

“Society must also be informed and educated on asthma. If it comes in contact with a person who’s suffering from an asthma attack, those around him might be able to help the person,” she said.

Coleiro Preca said a holistic national policy must be set up, having at its aim to prevent situations which increase asthma. “These include monitoring of air quality, improving traffic congestion and enforcing measures which should be applied in construction,” she said.