Opinion
This World Asthma Day, we talk about the public health threat asthma poses especially among school children, and importance of training school management and faculties in tackling any emergencies.
File photo: PTI

I am a Pulmonologist and the Founder of Huma Lung Foundation in Chennai. Over the years, I have been witnessing a steady rise in respiratory illnesses among people in the city. Based on the number of patients I have been treating, I would estimate that the incidence of respiratory illnesses, particularly asthma, in Chennai has at least doubled in the last five years or so. The newest asthmatics here also happen to be the youngest, as childhood asthma is a fast emerging threat.

Asthma is a condition in which air passages in the lungs become inflamed, swollen and narrow and produce extra mucus, hence reducing the flow of air in and out of the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulty that can range from mild to life threatening. The disease is characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person. In an individual, they may occur from hour to hour and day to day, for years on end.

Asthma is a public health problem and according to the World Health Organization 10-15% of global asthmatic population is in India. The factors that increase risk of developing asthma is exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution. With air pollution on the rise in India, we are bound to see more and more cases of respiratory illness – particularly asthma, in the population especially among the youngest members of our society, the children and young adults.

Asthma cannot be cured but can be managed or controlled, and if not responded to properly, asthma may even cause death. Last year during the preparations for the World Asthma Day, my colleagues at Lung Care Foundationin Delhi stumbled upon the issue of lack of asthma management in schools. Though there is a lot of content available that informs about the basics of asthma, there was hardly any content or standardized handbook available on how does one deal with an asthma emergency. Further research informed the team that there have been cases where lack of quick guidance of response during an asthma emergency has led to death of children in schools. This led to discussions and deliberations and eventually the production of Asthma Manual for Schools. 

The manual is first of its kind comprehensive document on understanding and managing asthma crisis. It's a toolkit to equip health officers, administrators and staff at school to deal with such emergencies.

What information does the Asthma Manual for Schools have? 

The Asthma Manual is divided into 2 sections. The first sections explain Asthma; it’s triggers, symptoms and various medication. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) answering common myths related to Asthma follows this. Section 2 contains the steps that schools can take to be prepared for an Asthma Emergency. An Asthma Evaluation form follows this section, that each student can get filled from their treating doctor and a checklist for schools to check their preparedness for Asthma Emergencies. 

Who should read the Asthma Manual for Schools? 

The manual must be read and implemented by the health coordinators of the schools and senior administrators. The manual is written in simple language and easy to understand format and it will be beneficial for all schoolteachers to read the manual and be aware about Asthma. While the manual is made with schools in reference, the manual is applicable and beneficial for any institution/ hotel/ college/ university and even individuals.

Who compiled the Asthma Manual for Schools? 

Asthma Manual for Schools in an initiative of Lung Care Foundation, a not for profit organization. The manual has been compiled with the help of a team of leading pulmonologist and pediatricians from around India. Huma Lung Foundation did the Tamil translation of the manual. 

Is the Asthma Manual available in other languages? 

The asthma manual for schools is available in English and 11 Indian languages including Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Bangla, Malayalam, Punjabi, Telugu, Odia. 

While we work towards a clean air campaign in our schools, neighbourhoods, cities and the across the country, pushing our governments towards implementing plans that guarantee each citizen the right of clean air, we also need to be prepared to deal with the effects of pollution and protect our children and ourselves. 

Asthma Manual for Schools is one such tool that helps us understand the seriousness of the problem and equips us to respond to a crisis. With appropriate training and response, lives can be saved. We also hope that this manual will also help schools, children and parents understand and introspect on the sources of air pollution that is causing this silent epidemic and help them do their bit to curb air pollution.

 

Asthma Manual for Schools can be downloaded from: http://lcf.org.in/asthma-management-manual-for-schools/

For more information on Air Pollution and health effects please visit www.humalungfoundation.com