ASTHMA patients in the country can now easily select their preferred physician at health centres and access his services electronically, thanks to a new initiative.

Run under the Health Ministry’s primary healthcare directorate, the service is aimed at giving asthma patients quick and timely access to critical treatment and medication.

Asthma is a condition in which the airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, a whistling sound (wheezing) when exhaling and shortness of breath.

Supreme Council for Health chairman Lieutenant General Dr Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa launched the facility during a one-day conference on “Closing Gap on Asthma’ at the Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention and Spa yesterday.

“Asthma is a worldwide problem, and it affects children far more than adults, and Bahrain is no exception,” Lt Gen Dr Shaikh Mohammed told the GDN on the sidelines of the event.

“The causes, reasons, and conditions vary, and one of the most important aspects in managing asthma is the doctor. It is preferable to have a physician who is familiar with the patient’s medical background and history.

“So we are trying to provide the patient with the ability to select his or her doctor and easily access the physician electronically.

“We are trapped in a world that is witnessing climate change, pollution, and smoking – and we need to effectively cater to the rising concerns of asthma.”

Former Health Ministry assistant under-secretary for primary care and public health Dr Abdul Wahab acknowledged the “rise” in asthma cases, adding that people often ignored the condition.

“People think asthma is insignificant and doesn’t require special attention but for the sufferer this is a very serious condition,” he said.

“People under attack require medications to maintain normal oxygen levels which have a wide range of side effects.

“These medications make the person feel better but the symptoms recur and there has been no serious attention paid to this group of patients.

“This can be seen in hospital emergency rooms; all of them arrive after inhalation and intravenous therapy, after waiting two to three days for it to gradually fade but it is only a temporary relief.

“What we need is to track the cause of the condition and treat it – this conference aims to enlighten field medics on new developments in asthma management, and how we can truly prevent its frequent recurrence.

“It addresses new asthma medications as well as medical myths.”

The feature of the new initiative is “quick access to the doctor who knows the patient’s history”, said Dr Abdul Wahab.

“It is critical at a time when we are battling the coronavirus which could exacerbate asthma complications.

“If you add diabetes and hypertension, you’re going to end up with a lot of morbidity and possibly even death, hence the focus on effective management of asthmatic patients.

“We don’t have any statistics on asthma patients in Bahrain, but we do have a significant number, which is increasing for many reasons, the most important of which is that the environment is becoming more polluted than before.

“Unfortunately, as the community grows, we are polluting it more, and we must work hard to reduce this.

“Our eating habits, smoking – all of these are not helping us and have definitely something to do with the rising incidence of asthma.”

The launch followed a workshop for healthcare providers on most recent advances in diagnostics, management, preventive and therapeutic aspects of asthma.

“In fact, several initiatives have been taken to reduce the impact of chronic diseases, including asthma as one of the chronic respiratory diseases, which affects daily living and the quality of life for certain individuals affected by this,” said Primary Healthcare chief executive Dr Jaleela Al Sayed.

“Our goal in primary care is to ensure that everyone is working together to improve the health of these people (asthmatics), which is critical.

“As the first gate of the patient into the healthcare system, primary care must strive to provide quality care to all, including asthma patients.”

She emphasised the ease of access to health centres located throughout the country that are open 24 hours a day, as well as qualified family physicians with clinical competency for early diagnosis and management of such conditions.

The GDN reported yesterday that hospitals had reported an increase in asthma patients walking in due to the dusty weather conditions in the past few days, and pharmacies reported an increase in sale of face masks.

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