Malaysians still in the dark about respiratory illnesses, study shows

Many Malaysians still do not know the symptoms of asthma or how to control it. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Many Malaysians are still unaware of the symptoms and treatments available for respiratory conditions such as asthma, according to Dr Khoo Ee Ming of Universiti Malaya’s Department of Primary Care.

Dr Khoo, who is involved in new research on respiratory conditions in the country, said their study showed that many still did not know the symptoms of asthma or how to control it.

She said there was still a stigma against those suffering from asthma, with some teachers even sending children having asthma attacks to use their inhalers under the staircase.

Also, she said, many adults perceived asthma inhalers as addictive.

Dr Khoo said preliminary findings of the study showed that about 6% to 7% of adults and 8.9% to 13% of children suffered from the condition.

She said there was a need to put more effort into raising awareness of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

She was speaking to reporters at a press conference after the launch of the RESPIRE 2019 annual conference.

RESPIRE is a global health research unit led by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with Malaysia (Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia), Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. It is funded by the United Kingdom government through the National Institute for Health Research.

Meanwhile, Aziz Sheikh, director of RESPIRE from the University of Edinburgh, said the prevalence of COPD was likely to increase due to factors such as air pollution and the impact of smoking.

He said research showed the incidence of preventable respiratory conditions in this region, including Malaysia, was generally high.

He commended Malaysia’s ban on smoking in public places, noting that research in Scotland showed that a ban against smoking in public places had resulted in a reduction in cardiovascular problems, asthma attacks, respiratory tract infections, and premature mortality (death which occurs before the average age of death in a certain population).

He added that such policies would show benefits in as little as a year.

Meanwhile, Harry Campbell, co-director of RESPIRE, said the observed health impacts of the smoking ban were greater and more rapid than previously anticipated.

“We expected some impact in the respiratory conditions, but there was also major impact in heart attacks also, I think that surprised us, so it’s a very important policy,” he said.

Smoking in enclosed public areas has been banned in Scotland since March 2006.

Meanwhile, deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said Malaysia’s smoking ban at eateries was unlikely to result in any immediate effect on the rate of COPD in the country.

“It is an ongoing effort. At the end of the day, our objective is reduce the number of smokers. If the number of smokers doesn’t reduce, at least the amount they consume would be less. This effort will continue,” he said.