Lung health is not a priority of the public health agenda in Pakistan pointed out Professor Javaid Khan, Head of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, Aga Khan University (AKU) speaking at a seminar organised by the National Alliance for Tobacco Control in collaboration with the Pakistan Chest Society on World COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) Day.
COPD is a serious lung disease that blocks the airways and makes breathing difficult. But while it is becoming more prevalent in Pakistan, it is widely under-diagnosed and under-treated in the country.
Smoking is, by far, the most common cause of COPD. Professor Khan highlighted that every year 100,000 people die in Pakistan from smoking various forms of tobacco including cigarettes and shisha – which is very popular amongst young people in Pakistan. But an hour of shisha is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes.
Over half the deaths from lung diseases are related to smoking and, therefore, avoidable. The best way to prevent COPD is not to smoke at all. At the early stages of COPD, people develop a mild cough along with shortness of breath, a smoker’s cough. If a regular smoker recognises this symptom, they should not be afraid to seek medical advice to give up smoking, he added.
COPD can also occur from long term exposure to low levels of air pollution. Dr Ali Zubairi, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, AKU pointed out that majority of Pakistanis living in cities are exposed to poor air quality. The burning of fuels for transport, power plants, industry and domestic use adds harmful pollutants to the air increasing the incidence of respiratory infections and diseases in the major cities of Pakistan. He urged the government to take measures for the implementation of clean air laws in the country.
Secondhand smoke is another contributing factor to COPD. Dr Zubairi highlighted that secondhand smoke is a combination of two types; the exhaled smoke from a smoker, and the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette. Both types contain the same toxic carcinogens. In spite of a law that bans smoking at public places in the country, over 70 per cent of the population gets exposed to tobacco toxins every day as the law is not being implemented. Research conducted by AKU shows that the majority of restaurants in the country have very high levels of tobacco toxins, which are seriously harmful to public health.
Visitors attending the seminar were offered simple tests that can help detect COPD such as peak flow readings – the fastest rate at which you can blow air out of your lungs – and measurements of carbon monoxide in the breath. They were also offered health literature and counselling sessions on how to quit tobacco use.
Rida Turabi, Senior Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org