World Asthma Day: WHO calls for better education to empower people living with asthma

Asthma education is a critical tool to improve the lives of people living with asthma around the globe.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease which affects children and adults. There are over 250 million people living with asthma worldwide and in 2019 asthma caused an estimated 455 000 deaths. Most premature asthma deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where underdiagnosis and undertreatment are common.

Living with asthma can be challenging, but with the right education it is possible to manage it successfully using medication and other measures.

“It is vital that we work together to raise awareness about asthma; too many children and adults are suffering needlessly. We must ensure that people living with asthma, and all those involved in their care, have the information they need to achieve the best outcomes,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, Rehabilitation and Disability at WHO.

Education will increase understanding of the condition for people living with asthma and their families, and empower them to manage their treatment.

Common topics include:

  • what asthma is and what is happening in the lungs
  • symptoms of asthma
  • how to use asthma medicines correctly
  • how to reduce exposure to asthma triggers, such as tobacco smoke and air pollution
  • how to assess asthma control and manage their condition when asthma symptoms worsen.

This information, ideally including a personalized asthma action plan, can be provided by doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other health care professionals. There are also examples of asthma education being delivered through schools or peer-support groups. With the growing use of digital technology, mobile phones and digital applications can be used to support asthma education.

Empowering people living with asthma to self-manage their condition can

  • improve adherence to medicines among people living with asthma
  • reduce asthma-related emergency care visits and hospitalization
  • reduce health care costs
  • reduce asthma-related absence from school and work.

Beyond providing information for people living with asthma and their families, there are other important groups to address.

It is critical that health care workers have the necessary knowledge and skills to diagnose and manage asthma and to provide appropriate support for their patients. Asthma is often misdiagnosed, as pneumonia or tuberculosis for example, and treatment may be outdated or inappropriate, such as using oral or intravenous medicines in preference to inhalers.

Policy-makers and health care planners need to understand the burden of disease, the costs of uncontrolled asthma symptoms and attacks, and the cost-effective treatments available. In many LMICs, health facilities lack essential components of asthma care, such as inhalers, which have the potential to transform the lives of people living with asthma.

The Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD) is a WHO-convened network committed to reducing the global burden of chronic respiratory diseases, focusing on LMICs. GARD member organizations are working together to share good practice and resources for asthma education and to develop simple messages to support healthcare providers and people living with asthma.

“The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) emphasizes the need to empower people with asthma with the appropriate education to manage their disease, and the vital role of healthcare professionals in providing this information. GINA is committed to work together with other GARD members to boost our collective efforts and impact in this critical area,” said Professor Arzu Yorgancioglu, Chair of the Global Initiative for Asthma.

A collection of asthma education resources from WHO and GARD members can be found in this thematic collection on the WHO Knowledge Action Portal on NCDs.

/Public Release. View in full here.