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Socioeconomic Impact of Asthma

During the working group[1] discussion of the socioeconomic panel of the WHO-NIHLBI “Global Strategy for Asthma Management Project”, it became evident that very few studies on social, economic and cultural aspects of asthma have been done in the industrialized and developed economies. In the developing world such studies were not available at all. Without any such studies the panel was handicapped in making recommendations about socioeconomic impact of asthma all over the world. At the same time, the time table of the full project could not be held up because of this. Hence it was decided to go for a few quick exploratory studies. This study[2] was a result of the decision. The social impact of asthma advances far beyond the bar numbers of affected individuals. It creates a burden not only for the individual but also for society,  with reduced productivity, quality of life, and economic costs. Social institutions, family practices and behavioral responses can all contribute towards coping with the morbidity. These social and cultural opportunities should not miss the attention of medical and public health professionals. The study[3] sought to develop tools to assess socioeconomic aspects of asthma and to describe them. It revealed that the illness ‘asthma’ is an easily identified problem both in rural and urban areas. In the rural area, the poor preferred to avail services from the government health facility. Majority (75%) of those suffering from the disease had to either avoid (40%) or restrict (35%) work on account of asthma. The children among them lost on an average 2.66 days of school per month and the adults lost about 1.65 days work per month. In addition to the direct burden of asthma due to loss of school or work for the affected person, families with an asthmatic experience loss of work by other members of the family to attend on the affected person and quite significant expenditure for treatment of the disease. For example the top two causes cited by asthmatics who perceived their condition as a burden were; (a) overall cost of the treatment takes away a big chunk of the family income, (b) the need for assistance by at least one family member during attacks. Major part of the financial burden was on account of medicine purchase. Thus lowering of prices of asthma medication is likely to increase utilization of the drugs and reduction of morbidity. The report is also brought out as a working paper by IHS[4].



[1]Dr. Prasanta Mahapatra, President and Director, IHS was a member of WHO scientific group on Asthma

[2]The survey and writing of this paper was made possible by a grant from the NIH-WHO Global Strategy for Asthma Management Project and the Division of Lung Diseases. NHLBI . NIH . Bethesda . MD 20892. U.S.A.

[3]Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention - NHLBI/WHO Workshop Report, Global Initiative for Asthma, Ch 8; pg 120-137; NIH, NHLBI, USA, 1995.

[4]Social, economic and cultural aspects of Asthma: An exploratory study in Andhra Pradesh , India . IHS, WP03, 1993.


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