A public-private initiative aims to increase awareness of and training in lung disease
Lung cancer is third most common among Thais and the second cause of death from cancer. Each year, 20,000 patients are diagnosed with lung cancer, the mortality rate of which is a massive 40 per cent. Efforts are constantly being made to reduce the frequency of the disease through anti-smoking campaigns and other means, the most recent being the Healthy Lung Thailand project, which was launched in July last year by Astra Zeneca (Thailand) in collaboration with Ministry of Public Health and healthcare organisations. The aim is to promote consciousness as well as improve diagnosis and treatment,
The project is now expanding to cover a wider region, namely Health Region 1 in the North, Health Region 8 in the Northeast, and Health Region 11 in the South, covering a total of 22 provinces.
The agencies involved have contributed towards creating awareness of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in Health Region 1, which is comprised of eight provinces –Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Phayao, Mae Hong Son, Lampang, and Lamphun – and which has the highest prevalence of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the country.
In Thailand, 78,036 patients were diagnosed with COPD in the past two years, a high proportion of them resident in the North who suffer from air pollution as a result of biomass burning for agriculture and also smoke the traditional banana leaf cigarettes, both main causes of COPD. According to the Health Data Centre, out of 17,347 deaths in 2017 caused by asthma and COPD, more than 30 per cent were from the Bangkok area and provinces in Region 1.
“In the north of Thailand we have more patients admitted to the hospital in March and April, which is when farmers burn their fields to prepare for planting,” says Dr Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, Inspector General of Ministry of Public Health Region 1.
Air pollution has also become a major concern Bangkok area after the amount of PM2.5 – airborne dust particles 2.5 microns in diameter or less – exceeded the safe level of 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air along roads on several occasions in recent weeks.
Chaleerat Direkwattanachai, the director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Association of Thailand notes that even though pollution doesn’t cause lung disease, it does trigger symptoms in patients with pre-existing conditions.
Last year, Healthy Lung Thailand was successful in developing the knowledge base on asthma and COPD for 9,320 medical professionals nationwide, while also initiating development in effective treatment and care.
“After the launch of Healthy Lung Thailand in July, the number of COPD patients in Thailand increased by 20.4 per cent overall, 12 per cent of which were from Health Region 1. This increase definitely reflects the accomplishments of Healthy Lung Thailand in increasing the understanding of COPD in Thailand, while educating medical professionals so they can provide better diagnosis and care,” Dr Thongchai says.
The support in terms of medical equipment and drugs from the private sector during the project also played a role in correct diagnosis and screening compared to the past where medical staff were less experienced and didn’t have enough equipment for the proper diagnosis. Through targetted training and seminars, medical personnel now have better knowledge of lung disease.
Healthy Lung Thailand was initiated by Astra Zeneca Thailand, the BMA and the Medical Services Department, with academic support provided by the Department of Medical Services, Ministry of Public Health, the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Association of Thailand, and the Paediatric Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Society.
This year, the project is being rolled out in Health Region 1, as well as Health Region 8 (the Northeast) and Health Region 11 (the South).
Dr Ekaphob Sirachainan, president of the Thai Society of Clinical Oncology says approximately 20,000 patients are diagnosed with lung cancer every year and 8,000 die from the disease.
“We are determined to improve the lung cancer situation in Thailand and the Healthy Lung Thailand campaign helps to educate medical professionals in accurately identifying and diagnosing lung cancer patients prior to admitting them for appropriate medical treatment. This will in turn reduce the death rates of lung cancer patients in Thailand,” says Dr Ekaphob.
“Respiratory illnesses, like asthma, COPD and lung cancer are rising rapidly across Asia. This presents particular challenges for most healthcare systems, which have historically focused on acute, short-term care. Effectively treating respiratory disease requires a lengthy, potentially life-long management with the patient at the centre,” adds Inge Kusuma, country president of Astra Zeneca Thailand.
Healthy Lung Thailand is slated to operate until the end of 2019 with three approaches from partnership with various organisations to increase awareness of the disease, capability and skill development, and better understanding of the disease leading to the development of effective treatment.
The goal of this project extension is to increase awareness and educate more than 8,000 medical professionals on lung cancer’s risk factors, prevention, identification and making differential diagnoses between asthma, COPD, and lung cancer.
Healthy Lung Thailand also aims to support Government’s five-year (2017-2021) strategic plan on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), where cancer and COPD are given high importance in the effort to reduce premature death from NCD by 25 per cent.
Healthy Lung Thailand is part of the greater campaign Healthy Lung Asia that has been rolled out in nine countries across Asia since 2017, namely India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand.
The region-wide programme has seen positive outcomes including helping to diagnose more than 425,000 patients of respiratory diseases, with 22,000 medical professionals trained while supporting the education of more than 24,000 patients. In addition, the programme has shaped 10 national guidelines and care pathways, and 956 respiratory centres of excellence have been developed. To date, three bilateral agreements have been secured with Governments across the Asia-Pacific region and 15 formal partnerships secured to improve respiratory care, reaching over close to half a million patients across the region.