Incidence of COPD and Other Lung Diseases Rising in Middle East, North Africa

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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Boehringer Ingelheim recently held  a 2nd respiratory forum that focused on the growing problem of lung disease across the Middle East and North Africa, and served as a platform for specialists from those regions and Europe to discuss the clinical management and diagnosis of these diseases, and future challenges in controlling their prevalence.

The theme for the forum, which took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), was  “Innovative Solutions to Help Millions.”

Respiratory problems in this region can be unique, due to its high numbers of smokers, increasing problems of obesity, and extreme weather fluctuations. Associated lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) now present a major health burden to medical systems, with an estimated 60 million people at risk of lung disease.

“Our data suggests that across the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region, around 40 million individuals are currently suffering from multiple respiratory diseases. More than 60%–70% of patients diagnosed with a respiratory illness are under the age of 40, where smokers make up 30% of the patients. As such, 60 million people across this region alone are strong candidates for developing respiratory diseases,” Dr. Bassam Mahboub, a consultant pulmonologist and head of Pulmonary Medicine at Rashid Hospital, UAE, said in a press release.

“Smokers, usually, they visit the doctor to see whether they have heart problems or not, or they have cancer or not. They are totally, absolutely clueless about COPD,” Mahboub added, noting that a 2011 study estimated that 3.7 percent of the UAE’s population has the disease.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD,  a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants — such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust — may also contribute to its development. COPD is a major cause of disability, and is expected to become the third leading cause of mortality worldwide by 2030 (it’s now ranked fourth).

“COPD cannot be cured, but medication can slow down the progress of the disease and ease off symptoms,” Mahboub said.

Doctors at the event also highlighted the increased prevalence of asthma in the UAE compared to Europe.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) was also discussed, and the need to raise awareness of IPF’s prevalence — due to a lack data from across the region, especially Saudi Arabia — was underscored.

“There’s been a real increase in the number of new cases of IPF over the last 20 years or so,” said Dr. Toby Maher, consultant physician at Royal Brompton Hospital, London, and senior lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London.

Specialists at the forum also emphasized the importance of early detection of disease symptoms and proper adherence to treatment protocols.