Asthma: Inhaling facts and exhaling witchcraft

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com

Contributed by Rupeni Vatubuli

Asthma is a common condition in the world, with a common symptom for those that suffer from being to experience recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing.

The World Health Organisation or WHO estimated in a 2013 survey that 235 million people currently suffer from asthma and of the Non Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) it is is the third biggest killer.

Close to home in the Pacific region the human costs of asthma are all too apparent.

Individuals who develop asthma as adults are said to have adult onset asthma (Source: http://www.webmd.com)

In Fiji for instance, figures for the past four years (2010-2014) show the main hospitals saw over 2285 cases of asthma and of these 6.6% resulted in death – as many as 151 deaths.

Challenges that prevent people from managing their asthma properly include a lack of knowledge about how to make best use of their medication. Many have the necessary medication but do not know how and when to use them.

In 2014 the Global Asthma Network conducted a survey in the Pacific. Results highlighted that in Samoa 14.1 percent of the young teenage population aged 13-14 have experienced asthma, while for the same age group the figure was 13.6 percent in Fiji and 12.5 percent in Tonga.

Factors that are contributing to the problem are factors such as interrupted access to medication related to affordability and the lack of ongoing treatment.

This gives asthma patients or those who care for asthma patients no choice but to take extreme measures. An inhaler in Fiji costs $8 FJD ($5.74 NZD) and though that may seem reasonable, it would be wrong to assume that everyone has access to sufficient medical facilities or can even afford to pay that amount. If government or NGO assistance was pushed aside, how people deal with asthma would become even more difficult.

There is another aspect to treatment of asthma in the Pacific that has to be noted.

In pre-contact periods, Fiji society, like other neighbouring countries, had a strong connection to superstitious beliefs. If a relative fell ill, the belief was that the condition was not brought on by themselves but by the cruel intentions of others. A bete (High Priest) is said to be installed by the old gods to cater for the health of its people. Herbal medicine would be given to the patient with a promise that it would cure their illnesses (placebos).

One survey of over 2000 practising providers of traditional medicine in 13 of the 14 provinces in Fiji by the Women’s Association for Natural Medicinal Therapy indicated that between 60 to 80% of the population use traditional medicine. The same survey also suggests that many people, including practitioners of allopathic medicine, use traditional medicine but hesitate to call it such, because traditional medicine is associated with witchcraft.

The point is that many people, including most asthma patients, tend to use herbal medicine because of their affordability and abundance.

It’s a reality of the ‘health system’ that hasn’t been studied much,  with people continuing to use herbal medicine due to their lack of information on “asthma” and with potential, worse still, to be scammed by people who know nothing about the disease.

And meanwhile the battle to address the seriousness of asthma goes on.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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