‘Food, shelter and clothes mean nothing without breath’: World COPD Day 2021 being observed today

According to a study carried out by Nepal Health Research Council, 11.7 percent Nepalis live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The World COPD Day this year is themed ‘Healthy Lungs—Never More Important’, by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Diseases (GOLD). Photo: www.goldcopd.org

NL Today

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Kathmandu: The 20th World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Day is being marked today, November 17, across the world. The event this year is themed ‘Healthy Lungs—Never More Important’, by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Diseases (GOLD), perhaps in the context of the coronavirus pandemic that has choked the whole world for the last two years.

“This year’s aim,” the GOLD states in its website, “is to highlight that the burden of COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases] remains, in spite of the ongoing global COVID pandemic. Even in light of COVID, COPD remains a leading cause of death worldwide—there is never a more important time to focus on lung health!”

Studies show COPD is rife in Nepal. A Nepal Health Research Council study shows that 11.7 percent Nepalis live with COPD, its highest prevalence recorded in the Karnali Province at 25.1 percent.

Every year COPD Day is organized by the GOLD in collaboration with healthcare professionals and patient groups throughout the world. It first started in 2002 and the world COPD day has been celebrated in over 50 countries since.

COPD can be understood as a chronic inflammatory lung disease, also known as asthma, which affects people over 40 and is non-reversible. The disease is predicted to be the first leading cause of death in 2030.

Among the many campaigns marking the COPD day in Nepal, ‘Gaas, Baas, Kapaas ra Saas’ (‘food, shelter, clothes and breath’), being organized in collaboration with Maha Jodi (Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansa Acharya), is the most prominent one. “Food, shelter and clothes mean nothing without breath,” the campaign says in a statement. This campaign is organized with the initiative of CIPLA – Nepal, a pharmaceutical company based in Kathmandu.

“This campaign aims to increase awareness among people towards the importance of healthy lungs,” the campaign organizers have said.

Challenges in curbing COPD in Nepal

Curbing COPD in Nepal has two main challenges: low rate of diagnosis and misdiagnosis. According to CIPLA Nepal, 54 percent of Nepalis with COPD are yet to be diagnosed and 62 percent of the patients are misdiagnosed. 

“There are a lot of challenges to curb COPD in Nepal,” said Dr. Ashesh Dhungana, head of the chest unit at Bir Hospital.  “One of the major challenges is that our cities are urbanizing very quickly due to which the level of pollution is increasing,” he added. 

According to Dr Dhungana the trend of smoking is also increasing and people who smoke are at high risk of developing COPD later in their life. 

“The other challenges are related to the health sector of Nepal. There are very few health centres which have specialized pulmonary physicians and the access to the treatment of COPD is also less,” said Dr Dhungana. 

Symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment 

People after the age of 40 seem to experience various symptoms of COPD like difficulty in breathing, wheezing and chronic cough, excessive sputum, and chest tightness.

It is usually caused by smoking, exposure to smoke produced from vehicles and chimneys, dust and dust mites, and sometimes even heavy exercises.

The best way to prevent this terminal illness is to avoid exposure to dust,  smoke as much as possible, take regular medication and avoid other lung irritants, according to physicians. If one starts to suffer from the symptoms of COPD, it is in their best interest to consult a physician. There are various breath free clinics around Nepal that offer COPD consultations and treatments. The list of clinics is available on the breathefree website launched by CIPLA-Nepal.

“COPD at large happens due to smoking. So its preventive measure can be reducing the amount of smoke exposure,” said Dr. Dhungana. 

“The most effective measure to prevent COPD is to quit smoking and to prevent people from starting to smoke.” There are many other organizations which have been providing public services related to COPD and ‘Breathefree’ is one of them.Breathefree’ provides public service for patients with chronic respiratory disease, dedicated to assisting patients suffering from conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and allergic rhinitis. It covers all aspects of diagnostic, counseling, and therapy procedures that occur during the course of the patient’s treatment. ‘Breathfree’ will host a number of programs and health camps to raise awareness about how anyone with a respiratory condition may live a simple and active life, according to CIPLA-Nepal.